Prison staff walk­out con­demned by jus­tice sec­re­tary

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Jamie Grierson Matthew Weaver

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

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IM­AGES

Prison staff gather out­side Wandsworth jail in south­west Lon­don yes­ter­day

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