‘Gov­ern­ment has recog­nised prison of­fi­cers’ con­cerns’

Western Mail - - NEWS - JEMMA CREW, SAM BLEWETT and DAVID WILCOCK, news­desk@waleson­line.co.uk

CON­CERNS over prison vi­o­lence that sparked a mass walk-out by of­fi­cers across the coun­try have been recog­nised by the Gov­ern­ment as “jus­ti­fied”, their union said.

The protest­ing staff in pris­ons across Wales were mem­bers of trade union the Prison Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (POA). They were told to re­turn to work by 1pm fol­low­ing “mean­ing­ful en­gage­ment” with pris­ons min­is­ter Rory Ste­wart.

Mr Ste­wart “recog­nised that our con­cerns are jus­ti­fied and need ad­dress­ing” fol­low­ing yes­ter­day’s protest, POA gen­eral sec­re­tary Steve Gil­lan said.

He said he was “con­fi­dent a deal is a deal” af­ter the prison ser­vice “backed down” over seek­ing an in­junc­tion against the demon­stra­tors.

They had been demon­strat­ing out­side pris­ons in Eng­land and Wales from 7am yes­ter­day over “un­prece­dented” lev­els of vi­o­lence and safety con­cerns.

But Jus­tice Sec­re­tary David Gauke branded yes­ter­day’s ac­tion “wrong” and “ir­re­spon­si­ble”, adding that it “does noth­ing” to help re­duce lev­els of vi­o­lence. He told re­porters: “I agree with those who say that the level of vi­o­lence is un­ac­cept­ably high and we are de­ter­mined to bring it down. But 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.”

Staff out­side HMP Swansea yes­ter­day de­clined to talk to the me­dia about their rea­sons for join­ing the protest.

The ac­tion had knock-on ef­fects on court cases, with some de­fen­dants in cus­tody un­able to be trans­ported to hear­ings.

The union will hold talks with the prison ser­vice on Mon­day, Mr Gil­lan said. He told the Press As­so­ci­a­tion the Jus­tice Sec­re­tary risked “in­flam­ing” the sit­u­a­tion af­ter an agree­ment had been reached.

“The protest can’t have made things worse be­cause his min­is­ter has recog­nised that our con­cerns are jus­ti­fied and need ad­dress­ing. That’s why we called the protests off,” he said.

“And so while I un­der­stand the sec­re­tary of state will al­ways say ‘no-one should ever protest, we should rely on ne­go­ti­a­tion and con­sul­ta­tion’, un­for­tu­nately when no­body’s lis­ten­ing to you some­times you’ve got to demon­strate that you don’t think it’s right or proper that 25 of­fi­cers ev­ery day are be­ing as­saulted when they go to work.”

He added: “It couldn’t get any worse than it al­ready was and what we now need is pos­i­tive ac­tion to im­prove the safety of pris­ons.”

Thou­sands of prison staff took part in the de­mon­stra­tions, the POA said, which Mr Ste­wart called “un­law­ful” ear­lier yes­ter­day.

Af­ter the protests ended Mr Ste­wart said: “I am pleased that all par­ties have been able to bring a swift res­o­lu­tion to this ac­tion which, as I have made clear, was ir­re­spon­si­ble and placed fel­low staff and pris­ons at risk.

“The pri­or­ity now must be to con­tinue our con­struc­tive di­a­logue, with the safety of our hard­work­ing prison of­fi­cers at its ab­so­lute heart. Ul­ti­mately our aims are the same – to see safe, se­cure and de­cent es­tab­lish­ments that pro­vide a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment for staff and pris­on­ers”

The walk-out was trig­gered by a damn­ing re­port which warned of a “dan­ger­ous lack of con­trol” at HMP Bed­ford, the union said.

On Thurs­day, Chief In­spec­tor of Pris­ons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the po­ten­tial for a “com­plete break­down” in or­der and dis­ci­pline at HMP Bed­ford.

> Prison staff out­side HMP Swansea af­ter the walk­out yes­ter­day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.