Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Issues and Results of Prison Understaffing

We Seek Them Here, We Seek Them There...

Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here but....

One of the key issues surrounding prisons today is the chronic understaffing. This is not just some issue that will go away and has been of concern to all for a number of years. As a serving prisoner I found that almost every day there was a staff shortage in the prison in which I was resident.

The resulting factors of understaffing have been seen throughout the media of the past few weeks; and I cite just a few examples here:

·         A prisoner was found dead, hanged in his cell at Wormwood Scrubs. (Inquest at Wormwood Scrubs). This is so terribly saddening. The inquest found that there was inadequate training  and that the member of staff that found the man was on secondment and the radio operator did not understand his radio code. REALLY?

·         There was a riot in Erlestoke Prison on the 13th June necessitating a large transfer of prisoners from the establishment (Swindon Advertiser)

·         Prison Officers have staged walkouts over health and safety concerns over the past 5 months caused by the understaffing of their establishments. The prisons involved include Wormwood Scrubs, Wetherby, The Mount, Swinfen Hall and Holme House (one of the new reform prisons, although it should be said that this 40 person walkout occurred before the new Executive governor and Governing Governor took over). (BBC News) (GazetteLive)

·         The POA (Prison Officers Association) has just announced that they are asking their members to take action between 08:00 – 09:00hrs on Friday 8th July. This will result in unrest in the prison with most men remaining locked in their cells for the entire morning missing their vocational and educational classes, medical appointments etc POA

·         In one of my establishments a man was found lying on the floor, dying, because the wing was so understaffed the officers did not check on him whilst unlocking his door.

·         One of my fellow prisoners almost died of a ruptured hernia as there was no night staff on the wing to answer his alarm bell.

I could go on, but I am getting angrier by the minute as I type this and I don’t want to break my keyboard

The follow on effect of under staffing is that many educational classes, workshops, gym time, association time etc were cancelled and we were locked up. Now for those of you that think “well and good, they deserve to be caged in their cells” nothing could be further from the truth. Have any of you ever experienced the time when the gas man said he was going to call (oh my God, am I that old?) or the phone company calls to say that you must be in your house from X hrs to X hrs? Then they didn’t turn up and damn it if you haven’t been sitting in your living room all day waiting for them!! You had things to do; you had to get out and do whatever chores you were supposed to do. Well take that exasperation and multiply it tenfold. We couldn’t call and find out what was happening; in fact we are just locked in not knowing why we couldn’t telephone our loved ones or even bathe. The panic and the stress that this causes our family  is unforgiveable.

Violence has gone through the roof in the last year with over 5000 assaults on prison staff. I wish I could report on how many assaults on prisoners have occurred in that same time frame but for some reason there are no figures published. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that it equals that amount (no, I don’t believe that either!). That is 10,000 assaults in a year. I can hazard a guess on how many of these assaults could have been stopped if the staffing levels were at operating standard!

Drugs being smuggled into prisons is at an all time high (excuse the pun, won’t you?) and is a subject on which mi’colleague Alex Cavendish writes far more eloquently on than I ever could. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons reports are full of this sort of information and it is saddening to see (HMIP). But stopping this needs the staff to do it.

Look, understaffing is a serious problem, people.  When the staff feel on edge this circulates through to the prisoners. Being in prison is akin to living in a self contained community. A prison cannot operate without cooperation from both prisoners and staff. Without this, riots will occur and bad feelings will fester on both sides.

It is not resolved by the Ministry of Justice stating that they have hired an additional 2,830 prison officers when in fact it is only a  net increase of 530 officers (the other 2,300 are to replace existing staff leaving).  Let me get my fingers and toes ready:  530 for 150 prisons equals 3 ½ new members for each prison. REALLY?

The government has announced that they have earmarked £10million to help respond to safety issues! When the cost of running a Cat C prison that holds 1000 prisoners is circa £30,000,000 what does the government think £10 million will achieve when spread across the entire estate?  Here’s an idea; take the £10,000,000 and put it into staffing!

Look, I know that when I went to prison I wanted to feel safe, and that just isn’t the case anymore. I often felt the tinderbox feeling when going around the prison, you felt it when tensions ran high and the prison was about to erupt. When that happens the staff can do nothing as the ratio of officers to men just isn’t there anymore. Presently, it is 1 officer for every 30 prisoners. With budgetary cuts it will only get worse.

Many of you who are reading this may have had no involvement of the prison / justice system from the inside, and I honestly pray that you never have to. But as the saying goes “There but for the grace of God, go I”. A recent study discovered that almost 24% of the entire British adult population had at one time or another committed an indictable offence. So you never know, do you? Should you find a loved one incarcerated you would want to know that they were safe.

Listen, I am an ex-prisoner, I was sent to prison as a punishment, I was there to do my time and come out of the other end a better person. I was not supposed to be afraid for my life on a daily basis. Unease begets volatility begets violence begets.... need I go on?

The government has stated that there will be 6 new reform prisons and that is welcomed (only 144 more to go!) and I have had the pleasure of speaking with a few of the new reform governors. Their intent seems pure and right, but unless they are given the staff on which to build their foundation then crumble it will.

 I have said this before and I will say it again (TheTartanCon-open Letter) until someone takes notice. Unless the prisons are properly staffed and that very staff treat the men (and women) in their care with respect and decency do not expect the woefully high prison population to drop and the violence to end.

Here it is, folks, the answer to reducing the assaults on fellow human beings in prison, and  reducing the flow of drugs into our prisons in a nutshell:


Of course and is normal the above is just my opinion, I could be wrong.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Nelson Mandela