05:26, September 23 54 0 theguardian.com

2018-09-23 05:26:04
Burgon to set out Labour's five demands to tackle prisons crisis

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, will call on the government to fund an emergency five-point plan to end the escalating crisis in prisons in England and Wales.

Addressing a meeting of the Labour police and crime commissioners’ group at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Burgon will say the current state of prisons is too dangerous for both staff and inmates.

His intervention comes after a rush of highly critical inspection reports on prisons in England and Wales, including four jails that were subject to the highest level of urgent action available to the chief inspector. Earlier this month, prison officers staged a mass walkout at prisons across England and Wales in protest at the dire conditions highlighted by the inspectorate – including rising levels of violence, drug use and self-harm. The forced departure of the prison service’s chief executive, Michael Spurr, was announced earlier this week.

Burgon will say: “Events over the summer show that the Tories have lost control of our prisons. Violence is at unprecedented levels, with inspectors reporting some of the worst conditions ever seen.

“This is the direct consequence of Tory austerity policies that have driven down prison officer numbers and slashed budgets, in a dangerous race to the bottom to cut costs to the levels of private sector prisons.

“The government claims it is now reversing its own failed policies, but in reality it is tinkering at the edges. There are still 3,000 fewer prisoner officers than five years ago, experienced officers have left in droves and promised new funding is woefully inadequate given that hundreds of millions have been slashed from prison budgets.”

Burgon’s five-point plan calls on the government to draw on Treasury funds to:

  • Recruit more prison officers to restore staffing levels and launch a national plan to retain experienced officers.

  • Meet demands from the prison officers’ POA union for new equipment to keep prison staff safe.

  • Take action to end overcrowding.

  • End “super-short sentences”.

  • Scrap plans to build new private prisons.

The number of assaults against prison officers continued to rise in the most recent batch of official figures, which revealed 9,003 assaults on staff in the 12 months to March, up 26% from the previous year.

Justice secretaries have been handed four urgent notices by the prison inspectorate in the last year – for jails in Exeter, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bedford. It is the most serious level of action the inspectorate can take over conditions in a prison it inspects.

In the case of HMP Birmingham, the jail was taken out of the hands of its private operator, G4S, and returned to state control for at least six months as officials battle to reduce violence, drug use and disorder.

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