Dis­or­der at Long Lartin raises fears about jails

MoJ con­cerned volatil­ity has ‘en­tered new phase’ Alarm bells should ring, gov­er­nors’ body warns

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Alan Travis Home af­fairs ed­i­tor

A dis­tur­bance at a “well-staffed” high­se­cu­rity prison has raised con­cern in the Min­istry of Jus­tice that volatil­ity in the jail sys­tem has en­tered a new phase.

An of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan yes­ter­day into the dis­tur­bance at HMP Long Lartin in Worces­ter­shire, dur­ing which 81 pris­on­ers, some of them armed with pool balls, forced staff to re­treat from one wing.

The Prison Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion (PGA) said the in­ci­dent should ring “alarm bells at the most se­nior level”. John At­tard, a PGA na­tional of­fi­cer, said the trou­ble was symp­to­matic of cut­backs and changes in the prison ser­vice man­age­ment struc­ture.

The pris­ons min­is­ter, Sam Gy­imah, an­swer­ing an ur­gent Com­mons ques­tion, told MPs spe­cial­ist Tor­nado riot squads from around the coun­try brought the in­ci­dent to an end in just over an hour with­out in­juries to staff or pris­on­ers.

Gy­imah in­sisted the dis­tur­bance was not the prod­uct of bud­get cuts. There was a full regime in place and no short­fall in staffing lev­els, and the trou­ble had been con­tained to one wing of the jail, he said.

He also ap­peared to con­tra­dict Michael Spurr, the head of the Na­tional Of­fender Man­age­ment Ser­vice, in say­ing the gov­ern­ment’s man­i­festo pledge to close di­lap­i­dated, age­ing jails in Eng­land and Wales dur­ing this par­lia­ment still stood.

Spurr told prison gov­er­nors on Wed­nes­day that clo­sures had been ruled out be­cause of an un­ex­pected surge in the 86,000-strong prison pop­u­la­tion this sum­mer and the fact that fur­ther rises were fore­cast: “I an­tic­i­pate that we won’t close any pris­ons this par­lia­ment,” he said.

Gy­imah told the Com­mons: “Of course, our first pri­or­ity is to make sure we are in a po­si­tion to pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion for all those sen­tenced by the courts to en­sure pub­lic pro­tec­tion, but that com­mit­ment still very much re­mains the case.”

Peter Daw­son, the di­rec­tor of the Prison Re­form Trust (PRT), said Spurr had pub­licly ad­mit­ted that another im­por­tant plank of the gov­ern­ment’s prison re­form pro­gramme had bit­ten the dust.

“Di­lap­i­dated old pris­ons, rightly damned by the chief in­spec­tor’s re­port on prison con­di­tions ear­lier this week, will now not be clos­ing. Some will even be re­opened,” he said.

The Min­istry of Jus­tice (MoJ) has promised to in­vest more than £1bn to mod­ernise the prison es­tate to cre­ate 10,000 mod­ern prison places, but the PRT said it was re­ly­ing on sav­ings from clo­sures to fund the pro­gramme.

The shadow jus­tice sec­re­tary, Richard Bur­gon, said the Long Lartin in­ci­dent marked another low-point in the gov­ern­ment’s prison pol­icy. Bur­gon later high­lighted MoJ fig­ures ques­tion­ing the min­is­ter’s claim that Long Lartin was well staffed. The lat­est pub­lished work­force fig­ures show that in March this year the fa­cil­ity was 46 of­fi­cers short of its of­fi­cial bench­mark staffing level of 551 of­fi­cers.

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