Writing the report of this summit now, while we are all in lockdown due to the the corona virus, the opening remarks of the day from Lord Ponsonby, Chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group of the JUPA (Joint Unions Prison Alliance) summit seem very resonant. He explained that he has been visiting Wandsworth prison for over 20 years and the most notable changes in this time was that it now smelled very sweet due to spiceP – and also it was becoming increasingly dirty – and litter was everywhere.
Napo is one of nine unions who have come together to form the ‘Safety in Prisons’ campaign, which was set up last year following an exponential rise in prison violence. The number of attacks against prison staff rising to a record level – an average of almost 28 a day according to the latest official report. The other unions in the campaign are the UCU, RCN, BMA, GMB, UNISON, POA, PCS and
Unite who represent the majority of staff working in prisons employed directly by HMPPS, private prison providers and staff working for contractors providing cleaning, maintenance, health care and education services.
The aim of the summit was to build the structures to pull together the separate conversations unions are having with employers around Health and Safety by forming a HSE led safety committee which would encompass all unions and employers. We also wanted employers to sign up to our 8 point charter. CLICK HERE
The last five reports of the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England have highlighted that the reduction of prison officers has contributed to the increase in violence – and the contributors at the seminar from the trade unions reinforced this. We heard that prison officers used to patrol, but now there were lots of locked doors only – and very little visible presence of prison officers. That the command and control of prison doesn’t lend itself to collaborative working. So for example those workers providing education or health services wouldn’t necessarily know that someone coming to see them may have kicked off last week. These staff were also moving prisoners around without prison officers. Doing the work of prison officers to get things done. The inexperience of many of the prison officers was also raised as an issue which left other staff vulnerable.
We heard that prison staff become accustomed and hardened to what goes on in prison on a day to day basis. To try to break this down, one of the seminar participants said they carried out something they called an “OMG survey” of their members. This was a snap shot – tick box only survey. And they got some useful feedback from this.
Imran Hussein MP, shadow minister for prisons and probation, spoke and said that: “People who work in the front line in prisons, whether they be prison officer, probation staff, education, health deserves respect and dignity”. He described the service as being in a ‘state of emergency’ due the 2010-12 austerity cuts. Given that Imran said this at the seminar which took place before the current lockdown period – it is no surprise that there are concerns about the prison being a potential powder keg due to lockdown and fears re the corona virus. The filth and dirtiness of prisons highlighted by Lord Ponsonby at the seminar has been something that has been raised by many of our prison based members during this crisis period.
One thing is for sure after this Corona crisis is over we must ensure that things do not return to how they were prior to lockdown – and the JUPA campaign will help ensure they don’t.