Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Criminal justice system 'meltdown'

The fire damaged gymnasium building at HMP Ford near Arundel, West Sussex

The Government is playing Russian roulette with public safety and the criminal justice system is heading for meltdown, the Prison Officers' Association (POA) has warned.

Riots such as the one which saw Ford open prison near Arundel, West Sussex, go up in flames at the start of the year show how "sometimes risk management to save a few pounds backfires spectacularly", the POA's general secretary Steve Gillan said.

"Under a Labour government year-on-year savings have cut uniformed staff to the bone and now the coalition Government is playing Russian roulette with safety," he said. "The criminal justice system is heading for meltdown."

His warning, in the POA members' magazine Gatelodge, follows concerns over staffing levels and the type of offenders being held in open prisons after about 40 offenders took control of Ford prison, smashing windows and setting fire to buildings on New Year's Day.

Mr Gillan said: "The POA does not wish to sound alarmist, but the health and safety of prison officers, prisoners and the general public is being placed in danger by ill-thought-out policies that have not been tested nor, in my view, have any justification or foundation. Privatisation and payment by results seem to be the chosen path, but they are doomed to failure."

Prison officers were being "assaulted on a daily basis", he said.

"This union is not looking for conflict with any political party. However, if you ignore the warning signs and place POA members' health and safety in danger in the name of the cuts, then as a trade union we will not stand by and allow that to happen.

"Unfortunately when unemployment has risen in the past, crime has also risen. So cuts to policing, housing and to the NHS will blend into one and have a detrimental effect on society as a whole," he said.

The violence at Ford started after guards attempted to breathalyse inmates for contraband alcohol in the early hours, it is understood. During the early stages of the rebellion, just two officers and four support staff were on duty, at a centre which holds around 500 inmates.

The guards were forced to retreat as the violence increased. Scores of riot police and specialist prison officers were brought in before authorities eventually regained control.

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