Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wormwood Scrubs on a knife-edge, says report

Our local prison is a powder keg waiting to go off say those people responsible for looking after it, and the people inside it. Not good news.

Prison staff of 20 years’ standing have told the West London prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) that they have never felt so fearful, the board reveals in its annual report, published today.
The IMB consists of volunteers who monitor the day-to-day life in their local prison, ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained and deal with problems within the prison.

The IMB found that cuts in staff not only negatively affect the Ministry of Justice’s key incentive to rehabilitate prisoners. The absence of one or two prison officers due to illness or holidays can have a huge impact on the prison regime. Prisoners spend too long in their cells and their frustration regularly spills into aggressive behaviour. There has been a 48% increase in staff using force or restraining measures to control prisoners in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period last year.

This is before the sweeping cuts by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling take effect in October, when the budget will be cut by a further 21% and 128 members of staff have to be laid off.

Responding to the report Andy Slaughter MP said:

"This shocking report about rising violence and vulnerable and mentally ill inmates put at risk is a direct result of Government cuts to the prison service. Prison staff are bearing the brunt of the crisis, but if prisoners are released unprepared into society we will all suffer. Recent report of serious crimes committed by prisoners shortly after release or even on bail give the lie to the Government’s promise to do more to keep the public safe and rehabilitate offenders".
The cuts and low morale are affecting all aspects of the prison, particularly in the kitchen, says the IMB. An inspection this summer found mice nesting in the kitchen equipment and eating the wiring. In addition, equipment was not satisfactorily maintained or cleaned.

Many prisoners are mentally ill. Some are kept in the Healthcare wing alongside physically ill prisoners. Due to lack of space mentally ill prisoners are regularly kept on a normal wing and/or in the Segregation Unit. This means staff with minimum training have to deal with volatile, unpredictable and often dangerous men.

It makes one interaction I had with an inmate all the poignant.

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