He may not still be at the MoJ by the end of the week, but clearly Michael Gove hasn't got much option other than to get back to the day job of trying to deal with the mounting crisis posed by the prison system. Here's Alan Travis writing in the Guardian:-
The justice secretary has acknowledged the scale of increasing violence inside prisons, as MPs heard today that five to six thousand prison officers protested against a rising tide of violence by staging walkouts last Friday at jails across England and Wales.
The unofficial action by members of the Prison Officers’ Association followed a 36% increase in assaults on staff – there were 5,500 last year – and led to the justice secretary, Michael Gove, answering an urgent Commons question on safety in prisons on Monday. The question was put by Labour’s Andy Slaughter, who accused Gove of having “gone absent” from the prisons crisis in recent weeks and warning him that unless he gripped it soon, “he is going to lose control fully of the prison estate”.
Slaughter quoted prison officers at Liverpool jail, where 100 staff walked out in an hour-long protest on Friday, as saying they had had more assaults on staff in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 years put together at the prison. “In the last year, there have been at least 20 staff assaults, including a member of staff who was stabbed – staff being spat on, punched and kicked. Also quite a few including having faeces and urine thrown over them,” Slaughter told MPs.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson described the walkouts as “unlawful action”, but acknowledged that they posed no security risk. Prison officers are banned from taking industrial action or going on strike.
In the Commons on Monday, Gove acknowledged the scale of increasing violence inside prisons across England and Wales and said he was determined to support prison staff. He also confirmed that moves were under way to try to reduce the 4,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for public protection, many of whom have served well beyond their recommended “tariff” date. Gove said he would meet the chairman of the parole board, Nick Hardwick, later this week to “expedite changes”.
The justice secretary said there was no single solution, but that a number of factors, including the changing nature of offenders being sent to jail, the widespread availability of new psychoactive substances, and boredom and a lack of any future for some prisoners, all played their part.
He said his prison reform programme, an urgent £10m injection into the jails to help with prison safety, the outlawing of new psychoactive substances and an “open door” to staff and their representatives could go some way to help alleviate the situation. He also recommended a technique known as the “five-minute intervention” to help staff de-escalate violent situations in prisons.
A former governor of Belmarsh and Dartmoor prisons, Claudia Sturt, has been put in charge of a taskforce that is working with prisons with the highest levels of violence.
Labour’s new shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, said that the Prison Officers’ Association had held meetings to discuss what they describe as “perpetual crisis”. He questioned whether Gove’s new “reform prisons” would simply prove a prelude to privatisation with watered-down conditions for staff.