02:16, March 29 310 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-29 02:16:02
HMP Wandsworth governor leaves after failure of idea to give duties to prisoners

The governor of Britain’s biggest prison has left his job after the failure of radical plans to allocate some officers’ duties to prisoners, the Guardian has learned.

Ian Bickers had been the governor of Wandsworth prison, one of six to be selected by then justice secretary Michael Gove last summer for “reform prison” status. Three months ago Bickers told MPs about his plans to allow prisoners to be trained to deal with low-level administration work, leaving officers free for more important functions.

However, prison sources say that most of the “peer advisors” have been kept locked in their cells, and trainers from the charity St Giles Trust have been left sitting in empty classrooms as a result.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson confirmed Bickers’s departure from the prison but said he was being appointed to a “more senior position” within HM Prison and Probation Service and congratulated him on his new role. The spokesperson denied that his departure was to do with the fate of the planned changes.

Of the 50 prisoners recruited to be peer advisors – nicknamed “the purple army” after their purple tops – just 15 have been partially trained since September. Wandsworth staff say the problem is due to staff shortages in an overcrowded jail.

St Giles Trust acknowledged that so far it had encountered difficulties in gaining access to trainees. Chief executive Malcolm Walker described the situation as “challenging, with the focus on those prisoners we can access”.

Prison sources say the prisoners could not be brought for training because they were mostly located on the five main wings at Wandsworth, which are on virtual lockdown for most of the day.

Dave Todd, a member of the Prison Officers’ Association national executive committee for London and Kent, said staff were sometimes forced to curtail prisoner activities but only do so for safety reasons. He said Wandsworth was particularly affected by staff shortages and unavailability of existing staff through sickness.

“We need increased recruitment and retention of staff before we can properly deliver the service the prison system and the public deserve,” he said.

The staffing situation at Wandsworth has wider consequences for prisoners there. Documents seen by the Guardian show that the numbers of new prisoners at Wandsworth completing basic induction processes – including tests for basic maths and English – are falling dramatically, with the proportion completing the process dropping from 49% to 21% between last June and November, and further falls expected.

The prisoner-on-prisoner listener scheme, facilitated by Samaritans, is also affected, with many of the trained listeners located on the main wings where movement is strictly curtailed.