An anonymous prison officer writes in the Guardian about the crisis in the prison service, largely brought about by the government of course:-
The prison service has been cut to the bone and we struggle to keep control
Today I dragged someone out of a burning room and extinguished a fire. I saved a heart attack victim’s life, talked someone out of killing themselves and intervened in a stabbing. But I am not a member of the emergency services.
I am a prison officer and the only time you’ll hear about my job is when things go wrong. And things are going wrong at the moment. Violence, self-harm and suicides are rising. Assaults on staff are at an all-time high. You will have seen stories about prisoners being allowed mobile phones and all the drugs they want.
Often the implication is that staff are lazy and incompetent. This hurts us. We joined Her Majesty’s Prison Service out of a sense of duty to protect people and we’re just as outraged by those stories as you are.
I’ve been a prison officer for a little over four years and I’ve already seen huge changes. I joined just before former justice secretary Chris Grayling brought in benchmarking, which saw public prisons costed to compete against the private sector. It resulted in huge numbers of officers taking voluntary redundancy overnight.
The prison service then recruited new staff on cheaper contracts and it’s since been a struggle to retain staff. Some new officers have only lasted a shift before quitting when they realise what it’s like.
When I first joined Her Majesty’s Prison Service, an experienced officer took me under his wing and explained that a prison has to be run with the consent of the majority of it’s population (we’re outnumbered by prisoners 30 to one). He said to me: “Prisoners will tolerate a lot. Prison isn’t and shouldn’t be soft. You can be strict, as long as you’re consistent and fair.”
But over the last couple of years the service has been cut to the bone. We used to run a wing of 300 prisoners with 15 staff – now we’re down to eight. When there was an incident and we pressed the alarm bell the wing would be flooded with staff responding from other areas of the jail. I felt safe and in control.
Now when the alarm is raised, we’re lucky if four staff are available to respond. The effect of this on the wing is that we struggle to maintain a safe environment. The lack of consistency leads to frustration and friction between prisoners and staff. We don’t have the time to build positive relationships with prisoners. We can’t do it in the pressure cooker our prisons have become.
The powers that be would have you believe all the problems are down to the psychoactive substance, spice, a former legal high, which has recently been banned. It does undoubtedly play a huge part – it is hard to detect and cheap enough that those who want to supply it can afford to throw 10 packages over the prison wall.
A person high on spice is indescribable. I’ve seen people still smashing up cells and smearing themselves in faeces four days after taking it, with the strength to fight off four officers in riot gear. But if the prison was running well, spice wouldn’t get into the establishment, or be so widely available.
I remember the first time I went to a cell when a prisoner cut his wrists while I could only look on. It takes three officers to safely restrain a violent prisoner and there wasn’t enough staff on the wing for me to safely open his cell door. I called the code for a medical emergency involving cutting over the radio and had to wait for other staff to arrive before I could open his door to stop the bleeding.
It’s a harrowing experience, but the reasons for having to wait are very real: past incidents have shown that prisoners may use such emergencies as a way to attack staff once the door is open. It’s why we also have strict protocols for cell fires.
Having to work in this environment takes it’s toll – I know that post-traumatic stress disorder is rife in the prison service. A prison is like a whole society, isolated from the outside world. I have to be every authority figure, every emergency service, every public service to that society. And I have less and less time to do a good job. I spend my time reacting to incidents rather than being able to put in the work to prevent them.
I used to succeed in turning an inmate’s behaviour around every now and then, but now I’m just crisis-managing. Doing just enough to keep the lid on. Staying just about in control.
I’d like the government to listen to me, but I can’t strike – it’s against the law. And I’m writing this anonymously for fear of disciplinary action. I just don’t want the public I serve to believe I’m putting anybody at risk through a lack of effort.
This from the Independent concerning the attack on a prison governor last week:-
A prison governor was so badly wounded in a brutal attack by an inmate that he had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his face, it has been reported.
Paul Cawkwell was reportedly violently assaulted in the canteen at Wayland prison Norfolk earlier this week. A spokesperson for the prison confirmed to local media that an incident had occurred and is currently being investigated by police, before declining to give further details.
A source reportedly told The Sunday Times the extent of his injuries was such that he had to undergo facial reconstructive surgery after suffering a collapsed eye socket, fractured cheekbone and broken nose. The source said: “The extent of the damage to Paul’s face is very concerning. The surgeons had to make a large incision around his temple to fit a titanium plate over his eye socket.
“His nose was very badly damaged, literally bent the other way. He’s got external and internal stitches, including several inside his mouth. He can’t feel a thing on the left side of his face. It could be months before he fully recovers, even with all the antibiotics and painkillers he’s been given.”
In April, analysis of prison data by The Independent found violence inside UK prisons has rocketed since the coalition government instigated reforms in 2010. The number of violent attacks involving knives has increased from 212 in 2010 to 491 in 2015. Sexual violence inside prisons has increased from 137 in 2010 to 300 in 2015. Campaigners and prison reform advocates have argued that staffing cuts are putting increased strain on prison environments.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said they were aware of the incident but cannot comment while investigations are underway: “This incident is now being investigated by police, therefore we cannot comment.”