Prison officers walk out in protest at rise in violence
Prison officers across the region walked out this morning amid fears of growing levels of violence in jails.
Staff at HMP Oakwood, Featherstone, Stafford, Brinsford and Birmingham began striking after being urged to leave their workplaces by their trade union.
It came after The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers union (POA) called for members in prisons across England and Wales to protest from 7am until instructed otherwise.
The demos were eventually called off by the union following an agreement with Prisons Minister Rory Stewart just before 2pm.
Calls for a protest, raised by the union's general secretary Steve Gillan, were in response to a report which raised concerns about safety at HMP Bedford.
Mr Gillian said: “We are coming out in protest to bring attention, under health and safety legislation, to the Government, to the general public, about conditions in our prisons for both prisoners and my members, of the rise in violence, the rise in drugs, the self-harm and everything that goes with it.
“Under legislation the Government and employer have a duty of care toward my members, and I’m fed up of hearing of my members receiving smashed eye sockets, broken arms, broken legs, broken jaws, being attacked, spat on, having excrement and urine thrown at them, and enough is enough now."
“We need ministers to start taking control of what’s going on.
The report, released on Thursday from Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, raised concerns about the potential for a 'complete breakdown' in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.
Inmates have effectively taken control at the violent, overcrowded and vermin-infested jail, his report warned.
Prison officers have since united, protesting outside jails due to the 'unprecedented decline in health and safety standards' over the past six years, Mr Gillan said.
Nikki Brough-Smith, of operational support, joined colleagues to protest outside HMP Brinsford.
She said: "We are all in the same situation. We hope that the people at the top start listening to us. We need more protection at work and we need more staff.
"The pay and conditions are just not good enough. We just need more staff."
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it would be seeking an injunction to stop the protest action.
Mr Stewart said: "Prison officers do vital and important work and we urge them to return to their duty stations, in line with their obligations to the law and the Prison Service.
"It's irresponsible for the POA to encourage their members to take this unlawful action.
"We are deploying our contingency plans but, by not turning up for work, these prison officers are putting their fellow staff and inmates at risk.
"Yesterday we doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers.
"We've also increased pay, provided tools such as body-worn cameras to increase security on the landings, and are investing £40 million to improve the estate and tackle the drugs problem which is fuelling much of the violence.
"And we've now got 3,500 new officers to help ease the burden. We are taking the action that needs to be taken."
The POA said about 90 per cent of prison staff were members of the union, which has 20,000 members in England and Wales.