The shocking real world true story of life behind today’s prison gates

By Mark Leech

This is a brutally honest account of life on the other side of the prison gate – it comes from a senior manager, working in a prison today where the majority of prisoners are serving long term sentences; this person has been in the Prison Service for over 20 years, and I have known them personally for more than a decade.

Here is what he, or she, thinks of life on the landings, and of the Prison Officers Association too.

Be prepared for a brutally honest account.

I have four new officers on First improvement warnings for sickness, they are all still in their Probationary period and with work-related stress being the main factor.

One of them has childhood mental health issues, he actually has his own mental health team, and he can’t cope.

Another has bouts of anxiety and depression.

A third has just had a wobble and doesn’t look like he will survive.

And a fourth who is always crying.

We may be getting bums on seats, unfortunately they’re not the right bums.

My staff go sick at the drop of a hat.

Instructors are told to get them through whatever…..

Our biggest issue outside of self-harm and violence is staff related issues with NEW staff.. in my opinion less than 10% of staff are good, sadly the rest are in it just for a job.

We need to bring back Boards, where potential staff are interviewed on their suitability – let me say, many are NOT suitable and we spend too much time dealing with staff issues.

I’m pretty fortunate, my reputation gives me a degree of flexibility in terms of how I have managed my staff, they respect me, because I don’t sugar coat issues, I don’t blow smoke up their asses either.

I tell them every day what I expect, I give them SMART objectives, they get them done.

To be fair, when I’m not the Orderly Officer, I’m on my wing, I have an open-door policy and both staff and residents are continually in and out. I am everything that I disliked about my PO/CM when I was an officer.

The residents like it, I tend to sort out more issues, my staff like it because I take the pressure off them and I will stand on the landings and talk with the lads and in some cases the girls too, but unfortunately experience is very rare.

In time they will get experience, but sadly we don’t have that time.

You can’t blame the Governors; they’re doing a job with one arm and leg tied behind their backs.

All is clearly not well inside our prisons.

Getting more staff on the landings is vital – but nowhere near as important as getting the right staff on the landings and the evidence of this senior manager is that this is simply not happening.

In April 2017 when the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was subject to yet another reorganisation and morphed into what is today HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), one of the consequences was that it lost control of prison officer recruitment – which was passed to the Ministry of Justice.

I have never understood the logic behind it and the consequences of it are that we are today clearly locked in a desperate scramble to get the number of officers on the landings back to where they should be; but this cannot simply be a numerical issue.

It has to be the right people, selected for the right reasons, capable of doing an extremely difficult job in the right way – HMPPS today has the task of training Prison Officers, surely they should be the ones who select those people in the first place?

A part of the problem is the Prison Officers Association, and it is true to say I have been a critic of this organisation for many years. Prior to the opening of the first private prison in 1992, POA entrenched industrial practices developed over decades meant that prison governors where held in an industrial headlock by the POA – forbidden from introducing any changes unless the local branch of the POA first agreed; the tail was wagging the dog.

If the local branch of the POA disagreed with a reform a prison governor wanted to introduce they entered what was called a Failure To Agree process, a series of negotiations that could go on for years, and often did.

Prior to 1992 prisons were run for the benefit of prison staff, not for prisoners or the public who paid for them. Many prisoners were locked up 23 hours a day, in appalling Dickensian conditions where many were subject to abuse and violence from prison officers.

Many officers were racist, openly displaying National Front lapel badges.

Some prisons at this time – 1990 – had their own social clubs, usually just outside the main prison gate, which served alcohol at lunchtime with the result some staff went back on duty in the afternoon having been drinking and creating a danger to themselves, their judgment and everyone else – and there was little the Governor could do about it.

If you are interested in what our prisons were really like just a couple of years before the first private prison opened in the UK watch this documentary.

When privatisation came along in 1992 finally those in charge in private prisons were freed from the industrial POA headlock. The union representing private sector prison officers signed no strike agreements, where their industrial issues were settled by discussing things like adults around a table.

It incensed the POA who staged walk outs and took strike action – in effect they cut their own throats.

Prison officers were then banned from striking under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Under Section 127 of the Act it is an offence for any prison officer to take, continue to take, or be induced by others to take,  any industrial action or to commit a breach of discipline.

Following the election of a Labour Government in 1997 this law was temporarily replaced in 2000 by a voluntary agreement between the government and the POA, which ruled out strike action as a way of solving disputes – but the POA failed to keep to their word.

After a “protest meeting” in 2006, the government responded by re-enacting the 1994 Act and legally banned strikes again at the High Court.

The High Court clarified in 2017 the effect of section 127, which the court said meant that POA members cannot withhold their “services as a prison officer”, or take any action that would be “likely to put at risk the safety of any person”.

This included withdrawal from what were voluntary services – like the provision of first aid and the taking of assessments to determine whether prisoners are at risk of suicide or self-harm – in addition to their contractual obligations; POA industrial action of any kind had been neutered – and it only had itself to blame.

The POA is a union locked in industrial practices that are 40 years out of date, they behave in many respects like the British Leyland Shop Stewards of the 1970s, believing, wrongly, that they are in some way a layer of prison management – which they are not and must never be.

The mentality of the POA is to criticise everything that the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS does, to see nothing good in any kind of reform for prisons, and many POA officials have all the negotiating skills of a brick wall.

Technically the POA represent the vast majority of prison staff – but in practice the only reason prison officers join the POA is for the legal cover it provides them with in cases of injury or disciplinary conduct hearings.

When it comes to the POA membership having faith in elected POA officials, the union’s pathetic election results speak for themselves.

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The results of the most recent POA Election of Union Officials in 2017 makes the point starkly.

In June 2017 the POA sent out 25,529 ballot papers to its Members to Elect a National Chairman and NEC officials – less than 10 percent of these ballot papers were even returned; 2,225 to be exact or just 8.7% – and of those, almost 200 ballot papers were spoilt – an effective way for even the 8.7% of POA Members who voted making the point they believed in none of those who were standing for office.

Mark Fairhurst was elected as National Chairman by just four percent (4%) of POA Members – FOUR PER CENT.

Put another way, Ninety Six percent (96%) of POA Members eligible to vote did NOT vote for him – yet he is their National Chairman – paid for by you and me, the taxpayer, who funds his salary as a Prison Officer despite the fact that half the time he doesn’t work as one at all.

I believe in trade unions, I fully support what they do, the vital functions they discharge and their right to represent their members – what I object to is that in the case of the POA it is the taxpayer who pays 100% of the salaries of POA union officials – yet gives them 50% time off from being the prison officers they are paid to be.

If they work half the time for their members, then it is their members who, deriving the benefits of their union work, that should pay half their salary.

The public deserves value for its money, and it simply isn’t getting it when we pay people to do a full time job but who only work half the time.

The POA are the first to claim that the chaos in our prison system has been caused by the loss of 7,000 experienced frontline prison officers, who were given generous voluntary redundancy packages – known as VEDS – in 2013/14.

What they are less keen to admit to is that it was themselves who did not object to the loss of these officers at the time – they did not ask their Members to vote on VEDS, they sought no mandate from them as to whether they should support or oppose these brutal staff cuts, quietly they went along with it – and the chaos we have today is the result.

In 2018 Phil Wheatley, the former Director General of the Prison Service explained it like this:

At this time the only way of making the required expenditure cuts, now that reducing the prison population was off the political agenda, was by reducing both the numbers of prison staff, at all levels – and also their cost.
The POA did not, as might have been expected, oppose this; lured by a promise that market-testing prisons would be abandoned and that generous early retirement terms would be offered to existing staff.

When I asked Mark Fairhurst, the POA National Chairman, in September 2018, why the POA had not opposed these disastrous staffing cuts, given the chaos that had resulted and which they surely must have seen coming a mile off he admitted the POA had whimpishly caved in, sacrificing the safety of their members on their altar of anti-privatisation.

“We had no choice” he wrote. “There was a gun to our heads.
“Accept it or go through wholesale market testing leading to a majority of private prisons.”

So there we have it – the POA were prepared to risk absolute chaos in our prisons,  where prison staff (their members) would be massively outnumbered, subject to increasing levels of assaults and all because the POA did not want to compete with private prisons.

And its not only their agreement to staff cuts that the POA seek to conceal, it is when their members are convicted in criminal courts of corruption that they remain tight-lipped too.

The POA refuses to issue any press statement condemning any prison officer convicted of corruption – whether it is bringing in drugs, mobile phones or knives, engaging in illicit sexual affairs with prisoners, stealing prisoners’  property, or forging documents that conceal the truth about deaths in custody – and there have been convictions of prison officers for each of these things – they say nothing.

On the other hand, when staff are assaulted by prisoners who are then rightly convicted and punished by the courts – the POA screams from the rooftops.

I don’t blame them for that, I condemn assaults on prison staff publicly too – but all I ask for is some degree of balance; you can’t condemn a prisoner for assaulting an officer on one hand, and yet say nothing at all when five prison officers are jailed for physical assaults on prisoners.

But that is what they do.

And it isn’t just that they are silent when prison officers are convicted of attacking prisoners either – the POA remain silent and complicit when prison officers attack other prison officers too.

The recent shameful case of Prison Officer Ben Plaistow, who suffered a year long series of homophobic assaults and humiliation by fellow prison officers and who recently won a damning case before an Employment Tribunal – he too has been totally ignored by the POA.

The vast majority of prison officers are decent, professional, hard-working honest people, doing a job I personally would not do for a £100K a year.

They each deserve the public’s support, they all deserve the public’s appreciation, but most importantly they all deserve professional industrial representation by a trade union that believes in decency and respect for everyone.

They deserve a trade union that isn’t constantly banging the table issuing  demands, holding out the prospect of unrest by taking prisoners hostage with threats of illegal strike action in order to force industrial concessions.

They deserve a trade union that recognises those tactics achieve nothing at all for anyone; least of all their increasingly demoralised membership whose refusal to vote for union officials in their tens of thousands, should ring POA alarm bells like nothing else ever could.

Prison Reform isn’t helped when lazy journalism meets an outdated Trade Union

By Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales.

“Inmates to be handed cell keys” – the headline to Richard Ford’s article in The Times today on the new Incentives policy framework for prisons issued by the Ministry of Justice yesterday, stretches disingenuousness to the very edge of dishonesty.

Let’s cut straight to the chase: prisoners are not ‘handed cell keys’.

Prisoners will be issued with keys to a ‘privacy lock’; a lock that is physically separate to the central cell door lock and one which, in any event, prison staff have master keys that can override the prisoners’ privacy lock at all times.

Another basic but vital point missed completely by Richard Ford’s lamentable article is this: prisoners can use the privacy keys to get into their cells – but there is no keyhole on the inside of the cell door by which they can use their privacy keys to get out.

An important and simple enough point to grasp – but one that was either unrecognised or ignored by Richard Ford.

Another important point is that last year over a million pounds of public money was paid out in compensation for lost and stolen prisoners’ property, where cells doors negligently left open by prison officers while prisoners were not present, allowed other prisoners access to steal the belongings of fellow inmates – yes, shocking isn’t it: there are thieves in our prisons.

Richard Ford’s article is an example of the worst kind of warped reporting that one doesn’t expect from The Times but which has become all too common; lazy journalists who can’t be bothered to ascertain the real facts much less report them.

The new Incentives Policy Framework, which has been a year in the making, is very much to be welcomed – it strikes exactly the right balance between incentive and disincentive.

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It has received widespread praise from all quarters with the notable – and predictable – exception of the Prison Officers Association (POA). The POA’s National Chairman, Mark Fairhurst, describing the revised policy as “a recipe for disaster”.

The POA is a Trade Union that trumpets its support for its Members but in truth the vast majority of prison officers couldn’t care less about it – in reality it actually ‘represents’ very few at all.

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Mark Fairhurst was elected in 2017 – of the 25,529 Members who were sent ballot papers for the Election of National Chairman, just 1,113 voted for him – 4.39%

The POA are a Union  who have little support from its Membership – until they need legal help. Of the 25,529 Ballot Papers sent out just 2,225 were even returned – and of those 189 were either spoilt or left blank – presumably a way of asserting ‘none of the above’.

It is time the POA were challenged, and confronted with the damage they are responsible for, their failure to possess any negotiating skills and the fact that an increasing number of prison officers writing on social media say they are a waste of time.

Our Prison Service has been in meltdown since the loss of 7,000 experienced frontline officers in 2014 – it is a simple but painful fact that the POA agreed to the loss of those 7,000 Officers – who they now constantly blame the Government for when they were themselves responsible for raising not a single objection to any of those officers leaving.

Prison Officers must now retire at the age of 68 – a ridiculous age for any prison officer to still be walking the landings – and yet the POA, with their constant abuse of Government, their ballots to carry out illegal strike action,  their being taken to court and made the subject of injunctions, their demand that their staff stand outside the main prison gate in the pouring rain in a fruitless attempt to change policy that hasn’t worked as a negotiating tactic since mid 1980s – and for which the end result is that those prison officers lose pay – shows what an out of touch, unrepresentative, failed Union they really are.

The POA are rightly quick to make press statements condemning when officers are injured – but despite prison officers being convicted and jailed for corruption, inappropriate relationships with prisoners, violence and abuse against prisoners, fraudulent doctoring of documents, importation of drugs, phones and even knives into prisons, the POA says nothing; refusing to publicly condemn a single one of these corrupt members; complicit by its silence lest they lose even more of the few members they have left.

Today industrial disputes are resolved around a table, not stood outside a prison gate engaged in an illegal battle they can never win. Modern Trade Unions work in partnership with their employers, putting their case forward for change, based on evidence and a desire to work together – not banging the table, demanding change, on the basis of threats and walk-outs; the failure of that as a negotiating tactic is proven by the fact that the POA achieve so little.

Thankfully we are now seeing change in the prison system, a new breed of prison officer is coming through, better educated, better trained, more intelligent and the POA needs to reform itself in the same way, or become less of a effective Trade Union than even they currently are.

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.

Overtime payments to prison officers in Northern Ireland have topped £9.4 million during the last three financial years.

Finlay Spratt head of the Prison Officer's Association
Finlay Spratt head of the Prison Officer’s Association

Overtime payments to prison officers in Northern Ireland have topped £9.4 million during the last three financial years.

New figures show huge sums are being spent every month to bolster staffing levels at the region’s four main jails.

Critics claim the money would be better spent recruiting additional staff, but the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has argued it is necessary to meet the demands of a 24/7 operation.

The highest overtime payments were made by bosses at HMP Maghaberry, which houses some of the most dangerous criminals and has segregated wings for paramilitary inmates.

Between April 2012 and March 2015, some £6.15 million was spent on overtime at the high-security jail in Co Antrim which employs 623 prison officers.

During the same period, a further £1.7 million was paid out in overtime at Magilligan Prison in Co Londonderry, which has 276 prison officers.

At Hydebank Wood in South Belfast, where young offenders and female prisoners are locked up and 175 prison officers work, overtime payments totalled more than £1.5 million.

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: “They should be employing the right number of staff rather than relying on overtime because if you rely on overtime, then you get burn-out.

“But this is the way the service is being run.”

Mr Finlay said the prison service was operating with at least 100 officers short and turnover among new recruits was high.

Hundreds of experienced officers have also left through a voluntary redundancy scheme in recent years.

Last year inspectors branded Maghaberry the most dangerous prison in the UK, describing conditions as “Dickensian” in a damning report.

A follow-up inspection found the unsafe and unstable regime had stabilised, but still fell a long way short of required safety standards.

The figures were provided following a Freedom of Information request from the Press Association.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots, who sits on Stormont’s justice scrutiny committee, said the level of overtime spend was unsurprising.

He said: “Unfortunately I am not at all surprised by the figures.

“All the indications are that the service has been too reliant on overtime, largely down to the fact that they did not recruit – despite requests from two prison governors at Maghaberry.

“It seems that the prison service headquarters have refused or failed to go and recruit staff to do the job.”

A Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) spokesman said: “There are times when overtime is required to meet the operational need of prisons and it is an aspect of running a 24/7 service. Overtime provides a degree of flexibility that can be used to ensure that effective regime is provided for prisoners and to cover unpredictable pressures.

“NIPS has regularly been recruiting since 2012 with job opportunities in the service advertised in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Since March 2015, NIPS has run external recruitment campaigns for Prisoner Custody Officers (PCO), Night Custody Officers (NCO) and Custody Prison Officers (CPO). Recruitment interviews are ongoing for all these opportunities with new recruits to begin training in early April 2016.”

Meanwhile, figures also show that thousands of days have been lost because officers have taken time off due to stress, anxiety and, or depression.

In Maghaberry last year, 7,919 days were taken off – a significant jump on the 4,321 days lost during 2013/14.

Some 64 prison officers are currently sick leave at Maghaberry, according to the statistics.

Mr Finlay said morale was low.

He added: “The mood is not good, especially when you consider one of our colleagues was blown up just the other week. That trades a lot of fear and there is no point saying that we are big, brave and macho because you can’t be brave when someone places a bomb under your car.

“Also, in Magilligan, for example, there used to be four prison officers for 50 prisoners. That has been cut to two members of staff. And, to be honest those fellas and girls are scared. These people have not been put in prison because they missed Sunday school -they are criminals.

“So, there is a big fear factor and I think a lot of the sickness is stress induced by fear because numbers have been cut.”

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 Officer Assaults up by 45%

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The number of serious assaults on prison officers by offenders has risen significantly under the coalition prompting one prisons expert to predict our prisons are on the verge of serious unrest.

A total of 543 assaults by prisoners on officers in jails were referred to the police in 2012, a 45% rise from the 374 assaults referred to police in 2010 when the coalition came to power, official figures showed.

The figure equated to nearly three assaults every two days in 2012.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said that dedicated and hard-working prison officers should not have to face violence at work and blamed the Government for allowing jails to become overcrowded.

Mr Khan, who unveiled the figures using a written parliamentary question, said: “How can ministers expect to rehabilitate criminals if prisons are dens of violence?

“On their watch, this Government have presided over prisons becoming more and more overcrowded and violent.

“We’ve seen call outs by the prison riot squad up sharply, and last year saw the highest number of deaths in custody for over a decade.

“And all the time prisoners are spending too much time idling away in their cells or on landings instead of undertaking meaningful activity like work, education or training.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that prisons are in crisis and the Government are either oblivious or simply don’t care.”

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is reviewing policy for managing violence in prisons.

Replying to Mr Khan’s question, he said: “NOMS takes the issue of assaults on prison staff very seriously. It currently has systems in place to deal with perpetrators quickly and robustly, with serious incidents referred to the police for prosecution.

“It is working with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that prisoners who assault staff are charged and punished appropriately.

“NOMS is committed to exploring options to continue to improve how violence is tackled in prisons to keep both staff and prisoners safe. It is currently reviewing the policy and practice of the management of violence.”

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales said the rise in assaults was largely due to savage budget cuts.

Mr Leech said: “Since 2010 over half a billion pounds has been slashed from prison budgets, resulting in fewer staff being employed and as a result already attenuated regimes being reduced even further.

“You cannot expect prison Governors to do everything with next to nothing, our prisons cannot be run on a shoe-string and while Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne are sitting pretty in their ivory towers our prisons are in increasing danger of exploding – I’d like to see Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne manning the landings at Full Sutton for a day; they’d soon change their tune.”