Thousands of prison staff in England and Wales have walked out in protest over serious concerns around violence and safety, after being instructed by the Prison Officers Association.
Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), called for all POA members in England and Wales to take protest action outside their workplaces from 07.00 today until instructed otherwise.
The POA’s decision follows Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke’s letter to the Secretary of State, yesterday, issuing an Urgent Notification Notice at HMP Bedford.
The Urgent Notification Notice requires the justice secretary, David Gauke, to formulate and publish an action plan within 28 days to turn the prison around.
An inspection report on Thursday found high levels of violence at the prison, with inmates taking control of HMP Bedford, and strong evidence of rules being ignored by prisoners. Drug use, as well as poor conditions including an infestation of rats, was also reported.
HMP Bedford is the fourth prison to be issued with an Urgent Notification Notice this year alone – the others are Nottingham (January), Exeter (May) and Birmingham (August) – leading the POA to take the unusual move of calling for its members to walk out.
Paying ‘Lip Service’ to Prison Officers’ Human Rights
It is illegal for prison officers to take industrial action following a high court ruling in July 2017, and this protest is a desperate attempt by the POA to highlight its concerns over the health and safety, and the human rights, of both its members and inmates.
In a statement, the POA’s Steve Gillan said “The POA has engaged with the Employer [Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service] and Ministers in an attempt to resolve issues, but they are paying lip service to the Health & Safety of my members, their Human Rights, that of other workers in prisons and of course the prisoners in our care.”
“Earlier this year the POA commenced legal proceedings due to the Government’s failure to provide safe prisons. Bedford with other prisons was placed into Special Measures and commitments made to this union from Government and HMPPS. These commitments were not met and we have issued a further Pre-Action Protocol Letter as part of the Judicial Review process because of their failings to provide safe prisons.”
“We will now be demanding that the Government provide safe prisons, meet our demands to improve Personal Protective Equipment, [and] reduce levels of violence and overcrowding as set out by Lord Justice Woolf in his report…”
We have initiated a judicial review to protect the human rights and safety of our members
Glyn Travis (Prison Officers Association) to Rights Info
Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers Association told Rights Info this morning how the POA outlined to the Government in 2017 that the prison system was at breaking point and it has now begun legal proceedings to protect prison officers.
“We have initiated a judicial review to protect the human rights and safety of our members, so the government has to take action to stop prison officers being assaulted.”
The Right to a Safe Working Environment
Prison officers protesting at HMP Belmarsh Credit: POA
The Human Rights Convention protects the right to health and safety at work, and ensures workers have the right to make proposals relating to health and safety and to stop working if there is serious danger.
The POA believes its members are in serious danger, as its statement today outlines: “The last 6 years has witnessed an unprecedented decline in Health & Safety Standards, Security and Safety in prisons in England and Wales.”
It goes on to highlight that assaults on prison staff have increased 197% since 2010 and currently there are, on average, 85 assaults a day against prison staff, totalling 31 025 per year.
Surely everyone, prison officers included, has the right to a safe working environment.