Prison Officers: The Mental Impact of Physical Assaults

Prison officers picketing at under-fire prison HMP Bedford on Friday have told of the violence they have lived through.

A damning report from the prisons watchdog found a “complete breakdown” in order at the facility and the highest rates of assaults on staff in the country.

Richard Gilbert, an officer there for 14 years, described suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after being repeatedly kicked in the head by inmates.

The beating came in July 2016, he said, when he challenged a prisoner he suspected of possessing an illegal Sim card.

“I got pushed from behind, fell to the floor and a group started kicking me in the head,” he said.

He was left with concussion and remains on restricted duties, but the more persistent impact has been to his mental health.

“I’ve got PTSD and depression at the moment and I’m heavily medicated for that, and they’re looking to get me out of the service because I struggle to work with prisoners now.”

The timing of the attack was a significant one, he said, with that year seeing a freefall in safety due to staffing cuts and a rise in the use of new psychoactive substances.

At 42, the father-of-three faces a medical inefficiency dismissal and a struggle to find a new career.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ben Blunt, a 20-year-old who works in operational support.

During his 13 months in the role, he says he has been attacked up to seven times – a rate of once every seven weeks.

Mr Blunt, who lacks the self-defence training of a fully-qualified officer, told how he was seized by an inmate during one attack and was unable to raise the alarm.

“He grabbed my hands through the bars, pulled me towards him and started spitting and scratching at my hands,” he said.

“I was stuck, I couldn’t pull my alarm because the radio was on my side. It was an awful experience and shouldn’t happen.

“I’ve thought about becoming an officer many times but every time I get assaulted I just get pushed back.”

Both men said their attackers have never been brought to justice for those offences.

Brian Cooper, their branch chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA), detailed further serious assaults, including a pool cue attack and one colleague who permanently lost the full-use of an eye because of a fractured eye socket.

“We’ve got the highest rate of assault of any prison in the country and the management are just not dealing with it,” he said.

Prison Officers’ Walk-Out: Concerns Justified Government Tells Union

Concerns over prison violence that sparked a mass walk-out by officers have been recognised by the Government as “justified”, their union said.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, were told to return to work by 1pm following “meaningful engagement” with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

Mr Stewart “recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing” following Friday’s protest, General secretary Steve Gillan said.

He said he was “confident a deal is a deal” after the prison service “backed down” over seeking an injunction against the demonstrators.

They have been demonstrating outside prisons in England and Wales from 7am over “unprecedented” levels of violence and safety concerns.

But Justice Secretary David Gauke branded Friday’s action “wrong” and “irresponsible”, adding that it “does nothing” to help reduce levels of violence.

He told reporters: “I agree with those who say that the level of violence is unacceptably high and we are determined to bring it down.

“But I think action of this sort does nothing to help that process, and locking prisoners up for 24 hours a day, which may be the consequence of what the POA are doing, only increases the risk of violence.

“It doesn’t help us address it.”

The action had knock-on effects on court cases, with some defendants in custody unable to be transported to hearings.

The union will hold talks with the prison service on Monday, Mr Gillan said.

He told the Press Association the Justice Secretary risked “inflaming” the situation after an agreement had been reached.

“The protest can’t have made things worse because his minister has recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing. That’s why we called the protests off,” he said.

“And so while I understand the secretary of state will always say ‘no-one should ever protest, we should rely on negotiation and consultation’, unfortunately when nobody’s listening to you sometimes you’ve got to demonstrate that you don’t think it’s right or proper that 25 officers every day are being assaulted when they go to work.”

He added: “It couldn’t get any worse than it already was and what we now need is positive action to improve the safety of prisons.”

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, the POA said, which Mr Stewart called “unlawful” earlier on Friday.

Mr Stewart said after the protests ended: “I am pleased that all parties have been able to bring a swift resolution to this action which, as I have made clear, was irresponsible and placed fellow staff and prisons at risk.

“The priority now must be to continue our constructive dialogue with the safety of our hard-working prison officers at its absolute heart. Ultimately our aims are the same – to see safe, secure and decent establishments that provide a positive environment for staff and prisoners.

“I have demonstrated my absolute commitment to bringing about that improvement but it will only happen if all sides work together.”

The walk-out was triggered by a damning report which warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford, the union said.

Around 50 officers were outside the prison on Friday, with members recalling how one colleague’s arm was broken with a pool cue while another had his head stamped on.

Richard Gilbert, who has been an officer for 14 years at the facility, said he was suffering with PTSD and depression after a group of inmates repeatedly kicked him in the head.

On Thursday, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

It was the fourth urgent notification the Government has issued since the scheme was introduced less than a year ago.

Standards across the prison estate have come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid a slew of highly critical reports and a deterioration in safety measures.

In his annual report for 2017/18, Mr Clarke warned staff and inmates have become “inured” to conditions unacceptable in 21st-century Britain.

He highlighted how thousands of inmates are living in squalid and overcrowded cells, locked up for nearly 24 hours a day.

Official figures published in July revealed that assault and self-harm incidents were continuing to rise, both reaching new record highs.

Overcrowding remains a key issue, with the prison population forecast by the MoJ to “steadily” rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The MoJ said it doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers on Thursday.

Prison Officers Protests Over Violence and Safety Concerns – ‘Justified’ Says Minister

Updated: 1630 Click Here

Concerns over prison violence that sparked a mass walk-out by officers have been recognised by the Government as “justified”, their union said.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, were told to return to work by 1pm following “meaningful engagement” with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

Mr Stewart “recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing” following Friday’s protest, General secretary Steve Gillan said.

He said he was “confident a deal is a deal” after the prison service “backed down” over seeking an injunction against the demonstrators.

They have been demonstrating outside prisons in England and Wales from 7am over “unprecedented” levels of violence and safety concerns.

But Justice Secretary David Gauke branded Friday’s action “wrong” and “irresponsible”, adding that it “does nothing” to help reduce levels of violence.

He told reporters: “I agree with those who say that the level of violence is unacceptably high and we are determined to bring it down.

“But I think action of this sort does nothing to help that process, and locking prisoners up for 24 hours a day, which may be the consequence of what the POA are doing, only increases the risk of violence.

“It doesn’t help us address it.”

The action had knock-on effects on court cases, with some defendants in custody unable to be transported to hearings.

The union will hold talks with the prison service on Monday, Mr Gillan said.

He told the Press Association the Justice Secretary risked “inflaming” the situation after an agreement had been reached.

“The protest can’t have made things worse because his minister has recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing. That’s why we called the protests off,” he said.

“And so while I understand the secretary of state will always say ‘no-one should ever protest, we should rely on negotiation and consultation’, unfortunately when nobody’s listening to you sometimes you’ve got to demonstrate that you don’t think it’s right or proper that 25 officers every day are being assaulted when they go to work.”

He added: “It couldn’t get any worse than it already was and what we now need is positive action to improve the safety of prisons.”

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, the POA said, which Mr Stewart called “unlawful” earlier on Friday.

Mr Stewart said after the protests ended: “I am pleased that all parties have been able to bring a swift resolution to this action which, as I have made clear, was irresponsible and placed fellow staff and prisons at risk.

“The priority now must be to continue our constructive dialogue with the safety of our hard-working prison officers at its absolute heart. Ultimately our aims are the same – to see safe, secure and decent establishments that provide a positive environment for staff and prisoners.

“I have demonstrated my absolute commitment to bringing about that improvement but it will only happen if all sides work together.”

The walk-out was triggered by a damning report which warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford, the union said.

Around 50 officers were outside the prison on Friday, with members recalling how one colleague’s arm was broken with a pool cue while another had his head stamped on.

Richard Gilbert, who has been an officer for 14 years at the facility, said he was suffering with PTSD and depression after a group of inmates repeatedly kicked him in the head.

On Thursday, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

It was the fourth urgent notification the Government has issued since the scheme was introduced less than a year ago.

Standards across the prison estate have come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid a slew of highly critical reports and a deterioration in safety measures.

In his annual report for 2017/18, Mr Clarke warned staff and inmates have become “inured” to conditions unacceptable in 21st-century Britain.

He highlighted how thousands of inmates are living in squalid and overcrowded cells, locked up for nearly 24 hours a day.

Official figures published in July revealed that assault and self-harm incidents were continuing to rise, both reaching new record highs.

Overcrowding remains a key issue, with the prison population forecast by the MoJ to “steadily” rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The MoJ said it doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers on Thursday.

POA Former General Secretary Predicts ‘Severe Disruption’ Ahead for Prisons

briancatonThe former General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) has predicted that prison officers are on course for more severe prison protests.

Brian Caton, who retired as General Secretary in 2012, told Converse that he believes the membership of his former union will reject the improved offer made by the Ministry of Justice last week

Low pay and allowing prison officers to retire at 65, down from the previous age of 68, is at the centre of a continuing dissatisfaction.

Mr Caton told Converse: “In my opinion the membership will reject this offer, the retirement age should be 60 – but the problem is this parliament is the worse since the second world war.”

“I have a feeling that most frontline staff and many inmates have had enough of the failures of the prison system and it’s dangers, so we are probably heading towards severe disruption.”

This comes after the Converse exclusive that suggested there is a real fear among prison officers leaders that their membership are set to reject the pay and conditions offer made to them this week by the Ministry of Justice, sources have told Converse.

The wide-ranging offer, accepted by the Prison Officers’ Association, gives prison officers a reduction in pension age to 65, the only public body to secure such a deal. The ability to retire at 65, at nil cost to the prison officer concerned, amounts to an investment of £12 million a year.

The offer also includes a new industrial relations procedural agreement, which means independent binding arbitration, and which should see a reduction, if not an end, to walk-out protests that we have seen recently.

In addition prison officers will be paid a £1000 ‘retention bonus’ in March 2017 and March 2018.

However one source close to the POA leadership, told Converse: “There is a very real fear that members will reject the offer because the pay rise is rubbish, due to the Government pay cap, this has been an ongoing negotiation for 18 months and is nothing to do with the recent protest action.”

The fear that prison officers will reject the offer made by Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, is certain to shake the Ministry of Justice, who are desperate to see stability return to a prison system that is said by a variety of experts to be ‘in meltdown’.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse said: “I hope prison officers do accept the agreement, its a genuine attempt by the Secretary of State to listen and respond to their very real concerns – but the elephant in the room is prison officer pay and this offer doesn’t, and in fact couldn’t, address that at all.

“Government-wide policy on capping public sector pay means that solving the prison officers’ long-standing complaint about low pay is not something in the gift of Liz Truss.”

And that is the nub of the problem, and one that is causing prison officer’s leaders to fear rejection of what is now on the table – and which they accepted and recommended to their members.

Mr Leech said: “The reality is that prison officers do have a legitimate complaint about their pay, I wouldn’t do their job for £100,000 a year, so twenty-odd grand doesn’t even come close to what they deserve for what they do.

“But lifting the Government pay cap on public sector pay for prison officers, which is what would need to happen to improve their pay rates, would lead to a flood of protests from other public sector bodies, rightly perhaps demanding the same relaxation of the rules – and I can’t see the Government allowing that.

“The problem for prison officers is that they know if they accept this offer then any discussions about pay are then put on the back burner for a couple of years – their dilemma therefore is do they stand and fight their ‘pay corner’ now, and risk what is currently on offer, or do they accept that in reality the current offer is about the best offer they are going to get?”

“Only time will tell.”

The result of the prison officers ballot is due in the next week.

‘Real Fear’ Prison Officers Are About To Reject The MOJ Pay & Conditions Offer

There is a real fear among prison officers leaders that their membership are set to reject the pay and conditions offer made to them this week by the Ministry of Justice, sources have told Converse.

The wide-ranging offer, accepted by the Prison Officers’ Association, gives prison officers a reduction in pension age to 65, the only public body to secure such a deal. The ability to retire at 65, at nil cost to the prison officer concerned, amounts to an investment of £12 million a year.

The offer also includes a new industrial relations procedural agreement, which means independent binding arbitration, and which should see a reduction, if not an end, to walk-out protests that we have seen recently.

In addition prison officers will be paid a £1000 ‘retention bonus’ in March 2017 and March 2018.

However one source close to the POA leadership, told Converse: “There is a very real fear that members will reject the offer because the pay rise is rubbish, due to the Government pay cap, this has been an ongoing negotiation for 18 months and is nothing to do with the recent protest action.”

The fear that prison officers will reject the offer made by Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, is certain to shake the Ministry of Justice, who are desperate to see stability return to a prison system that is said by a variety of experts to be ‘in meltdown’.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse said: “I hope prison officers do accept the agreement, its a genuine attempt by the Secretary of State to listen and respond to their very real concerns – but the elephant in the room is prison officer pay and this offer doesn’t, and in fact couldn’t, address that at all.

“Government-wide policy on capping public sector pay means that solving the prison officers’ long-standing complaint about low pay is not something in the gift of Liz Truss.”

And that is the nub of the problem, and one that is causing prison officer’s leaders to fear rejection of what is now on the table – and which they accepted and recommended to their members.

Mr Leech said: “The reality is that prison officers do have a legitimate complaint about their pay, I wouldn’t do their job for £100,000 a year, so twenty-odd grand doesn’t even come close to what they deserve for what they do.

“But lifting the Government pay cap on public sector pay for prison officers, which is what would need to happen to improve their pay rates, would lead to a flood of protests from other public sector bodies, rightly perhaps demanding the same relaxation of the rules – and I can’t see the Government allowing that.

“The problem for prison officers is that they know if they accept this offer then any discussions about pay are then put on the back burner for a couple of years – their dilemma therefore is do they stand and fight their ‘pay corner’ now, and risk what is currently on offer, or do they accept that in reality the current offer is about the best offer they are going to get?”

“Only time will tell.”

The result of the prison officers ballot is due in the next week.

Prison Officers Association – 2015 is “one of the worst years in the recorded history of prisons.”

Will we soon see this again?
Will we soon see this again?

Prison officers’ leaders have expressed “outrage” over a 0% pay offer for most prison staff in England and Wales – with one senior member of the Prison Officers Association (POA) telling the national prisons newspaper Converse that it was “one of the worst years in the recorded history of prisons.”

PJ McParlin, the POA National Chairman, told Converse: “In one of the worst years in recorded history in prisons for staff and prisoners, these incompetents want to rub our noses in it.

“As you know we are held hostage by the legislation with the Pay Review Body as a supposedly compensatory mechanism.

“Yet with a four per cent consolidated plus one per cent non consolidated for managers – you can imagine the reaction.”

The POA said its executive will hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss its next move, warning it was ruling nothing out in its response.

The General Secretary of the POA, Steve Gillan told prisons newspaper Converse that the meeting was to urgently discuss the whole report “and to determine if there are potential legal challenges”.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse said: “I’ve long criticised the POA for taking strike action but when they are hit with an effective pay cut like this, by a supposedly independent pay body that seems to be in cahoots with the Government, and with literally no where to go to record their protests, you have to ask yourself could they really be blamed for walking out?”

The union submitted a claim for a 5% rise to make up for pay standing still in most years since the coalition came to power, but said a pay review body had decided that four out of five prison officers will receive no increase.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, told the Press Association: “It is absolutely shocking that prison officers are being treated like this.

“We were given a pay review body as compensation for losing the right to strike – but it is just a puppet of the Government and we have absolutely no confidence in them.”

Mr Gillan pointed out that health workers had received a pay rise after taking industrial action.

The union said morale was at an all-time low in the Prison Service.

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said: “Staff should be in no doubt how highly I value the hard work that they put in every single day. That is why we have introduced major organisational changes that have saved taxpayers money and ultimately ensured key jobs have stayed in the public sector.

“Our reforms have helped to save £300 million per year from 2015-16 – protecting existing jobs and creating new ones by ensuring that HMPS will run the new prison in North Wales.

“The independent Prison Service Pay Review Body has recognised that significant pay reform is an important part of delivering these savings and we have accepted the recommendations in full.”

Fury as prison officers agree no strike pact

Caution – update. The accuracy of this news item, versions of which have appeared in both The Scotsman and The Scottish Times, have been disputed by the SPOA in a letter seen by Converse which you can view here http://www.docdroid.net/skz8/prison-officers-no-strike-story-simply-wrong.docx.html

Ministers were accused of “bribing” Scottish prison officers to give up their right to strike as unions reacted with fury to news of a no-strike deal.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, described the deal as “totally unacceptable”, while Labour said it was “astonishing” that the Scottish government had asked prison officers to give up a fundamental democratic right.

The deal between the Prison Officers Association (POA) and the state-run Scottish Prisons Service (SPS) means that officers will each be given a £2,000 bonus payment but will have to return the money if they strike within the next two years.

Andy Hogg, assistant general secretary of the POA, admitted that the union had effectively agreed not to “induce action” for the period of time covered by the deal.

Mr Smith said: “The Scottish government has a number of questions to answer about how it can stand with me and condemn the Tories for threatening to introduce strike ballot thresholds while at the same time encouraging a no-strike agreement in the Scottish Prisons Service.”

Mr Smith also made a thinly-veiled threat to the POA, warning that it had to consider the effects of the deal on other unions. “The POA in Scotland also has to recognise that, as an STUC member union, it has a responsibility to act in the collective interest of unions and not to do deals that disadvantage sister unions,” he said.

Scotland’s 3,500 prison officers are the only ones in the UK who retain the right to strike. While the deal struck with the SPS does not negate that legally, it has in practical terms brought them into line with officers in the rest of the UK.

Neil Findlay, Labour’s spokesman on fair work, said that the deal would hit the whole trade union movement. “This deal is a complete disservice to the trade union movement and lays bare an unhealthy relationship between SNP ministers and the POA Scotland leadership,” he said.

He added: “The right for workers to withdraw their labour is a fundamental right recognised by the United Nations. So for the SNP government to demand the removal of this right in return for financial reward is frankly astonishing.”

He asked: “How does this sit with the SNP’s claim to be the party that promotes fair work and champions social justice?”

The Scottish government said that the issue of pay for prison officers was an operational matter for the SPS. A spokesman said: “A deal was negotiated and reached between the Scottish Prisons Service and their own prison officers. Any financial costs incurred will therefore be met from within SPS’s own existing budgets, not from the Scottish government.”

A spokeswoman for the SPS described the deal as positive. “Both partners welcome the longer-term stability this agreement will provide,” she said.

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook and a long time critic of prison strikes welcomed the deal.

Mr Leech said: “In 2015 its ridiculous that essential public services like the Prison Service can still put the public at risk by strike action.

“This is a deal for common sense and I welcome it and I hope to see the English Prison Service, where strikes are illegal but still occur following suit.”

PRISON OFFICERS ‘TAKE PRISONERS HOSTAGE’ IN ILLEGAL WALK OUT

The walkout by prison officers in most jails is unlawful and ministers are considering court action to end the dispute, the Government has said.

The unlawful strike action has been condemned by Mark leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners.

Mr Leech said: “Prison Officers have a legitimate grievance in that it is absolutely ridiculous to expect prison officers to walk prison landings at the age of 68, which is what the government intends, but taking prisoners hostage to their industrial dispute demands with unlawful strike action is not the way to obtain concessions; they need to sit down and keep talking.”

Prison officers started unannounced protest meetings at 7am against Government plans to link their normal pension age to the state pension age.

Members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) are taking limited action at the majority of jails, prison sources said.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), said: “I am extremely disappointed that the POA has taken this unlawful action.

“We have implemented our contingency plans, and our priority is to protect the public and ensure that prisons remain safe and secure.

“In 2007, the POA agreed that the normal pension age for newprison officers would be 65, in line with all other civil servants.

“The Government has been in constructive discussions with the POA about further pension reform and it is deeply regrettable that this action has been taken now.”

Asked if the Government could seek the injunction to force staff to return to work, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Ministers are keeping all options for bringing this action to an end under consideration.”

It comes as union leaders predicted that up to 400,000 workers, ranging from police officers and immigration staff to lecturers and job advisers, will be involved in a wave of demonstrations.

The row was fuelled by ministers making clear in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech that they are pressing ahead with their controversial reforms.

Steve Gillan, the POA’s general secretary, said: “The POA has submitted a case to Government to support our view that it is unrealistic for prison officers to be automatically linked to the state pension age, which will ultimately rise to 68 years of age.

“Unfortunately, it has fallen on deaf ears and prison officers have no other option but to protest to gain public attention.”

POA chairman PJ McParlin said: “We are an essential uniformed service in a volatile operational workplace. A pension age of 68 is unacceptable to this trade union. We will protect our pensions. We have a right to retire from service not to die in service.”

The union added that branch officials have been briefed to ensure that minimum cover arrangements are in place to ensure prisoner safety.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude described the strike as “futile” and insisted that talks over pensions will not be reopened.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said early signs from picket lines showed solid support for the strike, the third major walkout by public sector employees in the past six months in protest at the pension reforms.

Recorded messages on HM Revenue and Customs phones were advising people to call back another day, and there were reports of government offices and jobcentres being closed, said the PCS.

A spokesman said there was “very strong” support among Border Agency staff at all ports and airports, while in London, 999 call staff and community support workers were out in big numbers.

“Investigators from the Serious Organised Crime Agency are also showing strong support because they are keen to show their solidarity for police colleagues marching today,” said an official.

Passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport were warned they may experience some delays at immigration, but a Border Force spokesman said a “trained pool of contingency staff” were being used to minimise disruption.

“Thanks to our preparations, delays are being kept to a minimum and we will continue to deploy staff to manage peak arrivals during the day,” he said.

Mr Maude said: “It is very disappointing that a handful of unions insist on carrying on with futile strike action which will benefit no one.

“We would urge these union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and nothing further will be achieved through strike action.”

Meanwhile, up to 16,000 off-duty officers, wearing black caps representing each officer expected to be lost under the Government’s budget cuts, took to the streets of the capital.

The officers, banned from striking under law, are marching through central London in a protest against proposed changes to their pay and conditions.

Some 20,000 officers from all 43 forces across England and Wales were expected to take part in the first police march in the capital for more than four years, organisers said.

Jails across the UK were also hit by strikes according to prison officers outside the gates at HMP Manchester, who said colleagues had come out at most prisons.

Staff, who like police officers are not legally allowed to go on strike, called their action a “protest” after 100 members on the 7am shift left their posts to stand outside the main gate following a meeting with representatives from their union, the Prison Officers Association (POA).

Some staff have agreed to stay inside to ensure the Category A jail’s 1,200 prisoners are fed and given medication.

Prison Officer Mike Lowe, 41, from Merseyside, said members were angry that their retirement age of 60, which was in line with police, army and fire service, had now been raised to 67 by the Coalition government.

Prison Officers will also face mandatory fitness tests to ensure they can do the job despite advancing years.

Mr Lowe said: “How would the general public like to think about their grandad or grandma, aged 67, being abused or having to tackle a violent prisoner?”

“How can the Government expect someone at that age to run up four flights of stairs and restrain a violent prisoner in his 20s?”

“Prison officers are angry, we do a tough job and all we are asking for is a fair deal.”

Prison staff said it was only the second time in their history they had held a strike.

Another prison officer, who did not want to be named said: “At Strangeways we have got some of the most dangerous prisoners in the country – murderers, terrorists, gangsters, psychopaths who are here because there are no beds in mental institutions.

“Staffing levels are already horrendous and there are people being assaulted on a daily basis. Would you want your 67-year-old grandad to have to tackle a 20 year-old con who spends all his time in the gym?

“We invited Ken Clarke (Justice Secretary) to try to do the fitness test – he declined.

“He couldn’t pass when he is 23 never mind 63 – he’s too well fed.”

Brian Lord, HMP Manchester branch secretary for the POA, added: “We feel, as a unit, raising the retirement age to 67 for us is unsafe.

“People will be dying in service. It’s just not do-able.”

Mr Lord said the pay of a Prison Officer ranges from £21,000 to £28,000, though cuts mean this will fall to a maximum of £26,0000.

He said the maximum annual pension a prison officer could get, after 30 years’ service, would be around £14,000 per year.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “We recognise valid concerns raised by the POA and, at the same time, fear that unannounced action of this kind is bound to have a damaging impact on people in prison and their families ranging from lock-downs to cancelled visits.”