Inhumane overcrowding in British prisons is a distressing problem, whether that be at HMP Leicester or further afield. According to the Leicester Mercury (July 16), increasing levels of violence are “on the rise nationally at a time when staff numbers have been cut by more than a quarter and the prison population is rising.”
The government report that the Mercury cited sadly pointed out that, whether in public or private sectors, our country’s prisons were in their worst state for 10 years. The problems associated with legal highs were mentioned: “the rapid increase in the availability of new” legal highs between 2014–15, the report noted, were aggravating issues of “debt and associated violence.”
The chief prison’s inspector for England and Wales was however clear that such “factors do not sufficiently explain the overall decline in safety,” and first and foremost it was his “view that staff shortages, overcrowding and the wider policy changes” that “have had a significant impact on prison safety.”
Our Government continues to cut funding for our prisons (as would Labour), while simultaneously cutting lucrative deals for their super-rich business friends — like letting Serco build and run HM Prison Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire (opened under New Labour). Yet it seems the Tories are well aware of the consequences of their unjust actions.
A Government report published earlier this year acknowledged that, the Prison Officers’ Association union “stated that day-to-day communication between prisoner and officer was rapidly diminishing, with an inevitably detrimental impact upon security and safety.”
This issue was intimately related to dwindling staffing levels; as the same parliamentary report noted how between 2010 and 2014 “the number of full-time equivalent staff in public sector prisons fell by 28 per cent, a reduction of 12,530 staff.”
With Justice Secretary Michael Gove now running our prisons, it seems likely that he will apply the same destructive commitment to privatising prisons as he did to our schools.
After all it is significant that Gove’s former advisor on schools was Sir Martin Narey, a man who in his previous role as the Director General of the Prison Service gave fresh impetus to the privatisation of our of prison service.
In May 2015 at the POA’s annual conference, members of the union for prison staff reaffirmed their commitment “to resist the privatisation of prisons and return all privatised prisons to the public sector”. That of course is no easy task, but it will be one made less arduous if individuals and trade unionists across the country do their bit in showing solidarity with the POA’s ongoing struggle against our fat-cat government and their obese profit-hungry friends.
This letter was sent to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 16th July.