Prison staff walkout condemned by justice secretary
A walkout by prison officers in protest at conditions in jails in England and Wales could have led to an increase in violence rather than helped address the crisis, the justice secretary, David Gauke, said yesterday.
His comments came as the walkout, which began at 7am yesterday, was called off by the Prison Officers Association after talks with the prisons minister, Rory Stewart.
Gauke said: “I do believe we have to take steps to reduce the violence, I agree with those who say the level of violence is unacceptably high, and we’re determined to bring it down.
“I think action of this sort does nothing to help that process and locking prisoners up for 24 hours a day, which may be the consequence of what the POA are doing, only increases the risk of violence.”
The POA’s general secretary, Steve Gillan, said staff were told to go back to work by 1pm. “We have reached an agreement with Rory Stewart. They [the government] will discontinue the application for an injunction against the union [over the walkout],” he said.
The union, which has 20,000 members working in English and Welsh prisons, will hold further talks with the prison service on Monday.
Gillan said: “I’m pleased with the outcome. Well, in actual fact I’m saddened we had to do it in the first place. But now we hope for meaningful, constructive dialogue commencing on Monday.”
Stewart said before the walkout was called off that it was illegal and irresponsible. The Ministry of Justice said it would seek an injunction to bring the action to an end.
Gillan said officers had the right to walk out under health and safety legislation. “The government and employer have a duty of care toward my members, and I’m fed up of hearing of my members receiving smashed eye sockets, broken arms, broken legs, broken jaws, being attacked, spat on, having excrement and urine thrown at them, and enough is enough now.”
‘We have to to reduce the violence … we’re determined to bring it down’ David Gauke Justice secretary
Prison staff gather outside Wandsworth jail in southwest London yesterday