Just over two-and-a-half years ago the Mercury reported that Leicester’s Welford Road Prison was “the 4th most overcrowded in England and Wales.” The paper correctly observed that although the prison was designed to hold 200 inmates, it somehow packed in an astonishing 342 individuals.
With the passage of time one might hope for some remedy to this shocking state of affairs, but unfortunately today it was revealed in the Mercury that little has changed. The Leicester prison still remains in forth place in the list of most overcrowded prisons, but now has an additional 19 inmates squeezed in.
The POA union, which represents many dismayed and angry prison workers, has been organizing to bring an end to this, and related problems, for some time. Indeed last July the union challenged the Government’s decision to cram in even more people into our already overcrowded public sector prisons.
The POA pointed out how ongoing cuts to prison budgets meant that public prisons were now massively overcrowded and “grossly understaffed”. A dangerous combination that means both prisoners and staff have a greater risk of being seriously assaulted, and which in turn has led to an increase in the level of suicides among prisoners.
The POA’s General Secretary Steve Gillan said:
“We will not stand by and allow prisons to become warehouses or our staff to be treated like punch bags on the back of a political agenda that is designed to save money rather than rehabilitate prisoners. Overcrowding places both staff and prisoners in danger.”
Thus our public prisons are being run into the ground at at the same time that the Government are handing over all manner of previously publicly run prison and probation services to private companies. A process of privatisation that is not too dissimilar to the way in which the Government has been dismantling of the NHS — most recently through the passage of the misnamed Health and Social Care Act.
As the Leicester East parliamentary candidate representing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, I pledge to stand alongside the POA union in opposing the ongoing privatisation of our prison system. Prisons should be about rehabilitation, not profiteering. It is for this reason that I support all efforts to call for the renationalisation of our nation’s vital prison service.
This letter was submitted to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on Monday March 2, 2015.