‘Government has recognised prison officers’ concerns’
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