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A recent government report revealed that instances of assaults on prison staff have increased by 38% in the last year alone.
This has led to a complete bottoming out of staff morale, as one prison officer writes:
“We’re working harder for less pay, in extremely dangerous conditions, but we still aren’t valued. You start to feel like a human punchbag rather than a prison officer. Too many of my experienced colleagues have left the prison service altogether, switching into better-paid, less violent jobs.”
The government report also shows how worsening conditions for prison staff are reflected in poorer conditions for the prisoners themselves. Self-harm and suicides among adult prisoners have now both reached record highs.
In fact, the situation has gotten so bad that last week the chief inspector of prisons issued a statement revealing that no English or Welsh young offender institution or privately run secure training centre officially inspected in early 2017 was safe to hold children and young people.
Far from being anomalous, evidence suggests that deteriorating conditions in Britain’s prisons is part of a long term trend.
Austerity in the prisons
But it is not just violence inside the prison that officers have to contend with, but also from the Tory government in the form of cuts and austerity. As Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), makes clear:
“We have seen a 30% reduction in staff in the last eight years and on average 19 Prison Officers a day are assaulted. The facts speak for themselves.”
And for those who have remained working in the prison system, despite everything, they have been generously rewarded with a near decade-long pay freeze. Despite now doing more work in more dangerous circumstances, prison officers are considerably worse off than they were seven years ago.
When the POA has understandably raised objections to these conditions, the Tory government has consistently refused to enter into honest negotiations.
Is it any wonder then that 10,000 prison officers walked out late last year to draw attention the crisis in Britain’s prisons?
New low from the government?
But now the government has stooped even lower in their attempts to punish an already demoralised work force. In a bid to stop more walk-outs, earlier this week the Tories won a High Court ruling which makes it illegal for prison officers to take industrial action!
Rather than listen to workers they would rather take away their right to effectively resist!
What clearer illustration of the priorities of this bosses’ government could their possibly be?
By removing their right to take action, the employer – in this case the government – is free to impose all manner of unfair conditions on the employees, who are powerless to mount an effective fight back.
But the Tories may come to rue the day that they took such action. The POA has a history of industrial militancy. If the government makes it illegal for them to take action, it is possible that it would happen anyway.
If this happens, we need to be clear whose side we are on – better to break the law than break the poor, as the saying goes.
Jeremy Corbyn has always taken a progressive position in supporting prison workers. But the same is not true for the Blairites when they were in power.
Back in 2007, the POA undertook a national strike over of privatisation and cuts to pay. The Labour government responded on January 9, 2008, by strengthening the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, section 138 of was used to attempt to prohibit prison workers from taking strike action.
The current high court ruling is simply a continuation of this theme.
Many of the Blairites who supported this act of betrayal remain in the Labour Party today, including Hilary Benn, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Vernon Coaker, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle, Frank Field, Sadiq Khan, Tom Watson, and many others.
A prison officer in her own words
If you remain unconvinced, and you are unsure about the situation in our prisons, I strongly recommend you read the following heart-breaking article written by a prison officer earlier this week:
I started working for the prison service in 2005. Back then I was proud of what I did.
I enjoyed the job and loved working with troubled teens. I had time to spend with the lads and could share my life experience. It felt like I was making a difference, helping them to turn their lives around. And as a single mother of four, I wanted to support my children through work.
Now it’s 2017 and I’m working longer hours and taking home less money than I did seven years ago. My rent and my shopping bill are going up but my wages aren’t because the government is holding down my pay.
I’m struggling to cope. Already I’ve cut back on luxuries so that I can make essential payments.
I’ve stopped taking a holiday each year, even though those breaks with my family meant the world to me. And I’ve had to tell my children they can’t continue with hobbies they love because we can’t afford it.
I often have to work long hours and extra shifts, sometimes because I need the money and sometimes because we’re understaffed. Last Tuesday, I went to work at 7.45am and didn’t get home until after two o’clock the following morning because of a prisoner incident.
When my children need glasses or extra lessons, I have to work overtime to pay for it.
The prison service is in crisis, and that’s no secret.
I’m attending more violent incidents than before and have suffered injuries at work. I kiss every member of my family before I leave the house, praying that I’ll get home safe at the end of the day.
Staff morale is at an all-time low. We’re working harder for less pay, in extremely dangerous conditions, but we still aren’t valued. You start to feel like a human punchbag rather than a prison officer. Too many of my experienced colleagues have left the prison service altogether, switching into better-paid, less violent jobs.
Some days I wish I had chosen a different career. I walk around the shopping centre and envy the people who work there. But my experience is in the prison service and I’m good at my job. I can’t walk away and leave other people to deal with the mess the service is in.
Being a prison officer is always going to be a difficult job with lots of risk. Still, I believe my work is important and I want to present a happy, professional face to prisoners. But the message we’re being given is that prison officers – who dedicate their lives to keeping people safe – are simply not worth a decent pay rise.
I’m not proud to be a prison officer anymore. I don’t feel valued and I’m afraid to go to work. Worst of all, I feel I’ve let my children down because I can’t give them the opportunities they deserve.
I’d like to see government ministers spend a day in my shoes. Maybe then they’d understand that unless they lift the pay cap, the problems in our prisons will keep getting worse.
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