Protesting prison officers threatened with court action

Above Single Post

_92446058_wandsworth_prison
Prison officers in England began their protest at midnight

(BBC News)—The government is threatening legal action against prison staff as their protest halts court cases in England.

Up to 10,000 prison officers have stopped work over what they say has been a “surge in violence” in jails.

It is illegal for the profession to strike, but the Prison Officers Association says “protest action” is needed to keep staff and inmates safe.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss told MPs the action was “unnecessary and unlawful”.

She said prison officers did a “tough and difficult job”, but the POA had failed to respond to government proposals to tackle their concerns.

The government is taking “the necessary legal steps” to end the action if officers do not return to work this afternoon, she added.

Earlier this month, Ms Truss unveiled a White Paper detailing £1.3bn investment in new prisons over the next five years, including plans for 2,100 extra prison officers, drug tests for inmates on entry and exit from prisons, and more autonomy for governors.

It has not yet been revealed how many court cases have come to a standstill because of the action, but high profile trials have been stopped, including that of Thomas Mair, who is accused of murdering MP Jo Cox.

Six prison governors had also been due to give evidence to a Commons justice committee hearing on Tuesday morning but, because of the industrial action, none of them turned up.

_92445494_5901b712-eaf6-4779-9e46-1186ce244d91
Protests are taking place at prisons across England

The POA’s national chairman, Mike Rolfe, said most local prisons had staff “out the front” and taking part in the protest.

He told the BBC: “All we can do is offer assurances that our members do not take this lightly.

“Conditions have got so extreme and so dangerous in prisons for both the prison officers and the prisoners, it cannot carry on.

“We need to sort this out before any more lives are lost or blood is shed.”

‘Service in meltdown’

The Ministry of Justice described the action as unjustified and “unlawful”.

But Mr Rolfe said his members were taking part in health and safety meetings at the prisons and would carry on with their protest.

A statement from the POA said: “Chronic staff shortages and impoverished regimes has resulted in staff no longer being safe, a lack of discipline and prisoners taking control of areas.

“The continued surge in violence and unprecedented levels of suicide and acts of self harm, coupled with the recent murder and escapes demonstrate that the service is in meltdown.”

The POA’s national chairman, Mike Rolfe, said most local prisons had staff “out the front” and taking part in the protest.

He told the BBC: “All we can do is offer assurances that our members do not take this lightly.

“Conditions have got so extreme and so dangerous in prisons for both the prison officers and the prisoners, it cannot carry on.

“We need to sort this out before any more lives are lost or blood is shed.”

‘Service in meltdown’

The Ministry of Justice described the action as unjustified and “unlawful”.

But Mr Rolfe said his members were taking part in health and safety meetings at the prisons and would carry on with their protest.

A statement from the POA said: “Chronic staff shortages and impoverished regimes has resulted in staff no longer being safe, a lack of discipline and prisoners taking control of areas.

“The continued surge in violence and unprecedented levels of suicide and acts of self harm, coupled with the recent murder and escapes demonstrate that the service is in meltdown.”

Dave Todd, POA representative for London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex, said he felt more vulnerable walking the landings in prisons than he had walking the streets of Northern Ireland during his time in the Army in the early 1990s.

National Offender Management Service chief executive Michael Spurr agreed there were “serious issues about safety in prisons”.

But he added: “That’s exactly the sort of conversations we were having with the POA. That’s why this action is just so disappointing, unnecessary and dangerous.”

An MoJ spokesman said: “We have been engaged in constructive talks with the POA over the last two weeks and have provided a comprehensive response to a range of health and safety concerns.

“We have well-established contingencies in place to manage prisons and keep the public safe, but we are clear that this constitutes unlawful industrial action, and we will seek remedy in the courts.

Below Single Post