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Government must work with prison staff to tackle current crisis

14th September 2016

Earlier this week the government responded to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee report on prison safety. In a letter to the committee the Secretary of State for Justice Liz Truss MP indicated that prison safety is her department’s ‘top priority’ and that the government will publish a “prison safety and reform plan” in the next few months. In response, Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of justice services trade union, Community, said:

“We welcome the fact the Secretary of State has committed to further action to improve prison safety and has recognised that ‘decisive action’ is needed to tackle rising prison violence. The government must not overlook the private sector prison estate which is facing many of the same challenges, without additional funding. Ms Truss recognised that solutions will come from the front line, which is why I call on her to meet with Community so she can hear the concerns and ideas of our members. Community will continue to call for a safer justice sector and stands ready to work with the government and employers to achieve the changes needed to protect prison staff and ensure effective rehabilitation of offenders.”

Meanwhile, Community joined the debate on ‘new psychoactive substances’ at the TUC Congress in Brighton. The TUC has now backed calls for more action by government action to tackle drug abuse in the justice and custodial sector. David Lawrie, Community rep at G4S in Scotland spoke in the debate at the TUC Congress in Brighton today.

Here is his speech (check against delivery):

“The ever increasing use of new psychoactive substances across the prison estate should be cause for grave concern. And it should be for all staff working in all prisons. david-lawrie-tuc16
“Our members in the prison service face a daily struggle. As prison officers, we are accustomed to the rough and tumble of life. When we signed up, we knew our working life wasn’t going to be easy. So we don’t speak out lightly.
“But the lives of prison officers are being endangered and we have a duty to speak out. Our officers are being force fed a toxic cocktail of shrinking staff numbers, inmates who are becoming reliant upon the use of these substances and a government asleep at the wheel. Left unregulated, this will continue to spiral out of control.
“It is Community’s belief that we need a two-pronged approach to tackling NPSs in our prisons. In the long term, we must educate people about the threat NPSs pose. It’s vital that we tackle this problem at its roots; educating users, prison officers, and policy makers about the threat posed in our prisons. But Congress, we can’t afford to only take a long term view.
“Psychoactive substance abuse in prisons has caused a 40% rise in ambulance call outs in the last two years. It commonly takes 8-10 officers to restrain an inmate who has used a psychoactive substance in an environment where staff are already often working alone.
“It must not be left until an officer loses their life before action is taken. That’s why Community is calling on the government to take immediate action to do all they can to safeguard workers. Ensuring that prisons no longer operate with so few staff and that NPSs aren’t freely available. No one should be forced to go to work worried they might have to deal with high risk, violent, situations on their own.
“I say to this government, stop unnecessarily putting our lives at risk. Commit to urgent action to tackle NPS. Commit to a minimum level of safety for all prison staff. Congress, support this motion.”