Prison union joins chorus of condemnation over Brixton HMP’s ‘unsafe, ineffective and inhuman’ conditions

A prison union has denounced Brixton prison conditions, criticising the ‘powder keg’ caused by over-crowding, under-staffing, and low officer morale.

The condemnation comes after a report into Brixton prison attacked the ‘deplorable’ conditions suffered by prisoners because of low staffing was released last week.

HMP Brixton’s Independent Monitoring Board’s report highlighted low staff morale in the Offender Management Unit and also criticised the slow pace of the prison’s resettlement programme.

Glyn Travis, the Prison Officers Association assistant secretary, told SW Londoner: “Brixton is not unusual. The issue for us is what is the minister of justice Chris Grayling doing about it when he’s constantly being told that his prisons are under-staffed and as a result there’s an increase in violence, an increase in deaths, an increase in the trafficking of drugs.”

Mr Travis feels that the issues highlighted in the Brixton report are symptomatic of a nationwide crisis in the prison service.

“Staff are burning out, morale is at an all-time low and we’ve got a real powder keg.”

“If staffing levels are poor, regimes are poor. If regimes are poor, prisoners don’t get access to basic essentials,” he said.

“This just epitomises the problems that the service is facing in the 21st century. Basic provisions are not being dealt with because of staff shortages.

“Staff are burning out, morale is at an all-time low and we’ve got a real powder keg.”

The IMB report into Brixton prison said: “The Board deplores prescribed levels of staffing which wholly ignore the requirements of running a prison effectively, safely and humanely.”

It also said the offender management unit’s staff shortage caused inevitable delays on prisoners’ sentence plans which hamper the resettlement role of the prison and the expectations of prisoners.

The Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme, which has restricted prisoners receiving parcels containing books, was also criticised.

“The IEP scheme’s ban on parcels adversely affects rehabilitation: the difficulty in obtaining books inhibits education,” it concluded, echoing concerns that were raised by a number of prominent authors over prisoners restricted access to books.

“The Board deplores levels of staffing which wholly ignore the requirements of running a prison effectively, safely and humanely.”

HMP Brixton’s Governor Ed Tullett, responded: “Brixton prison is adequately staffed and providing prisoners with a full regime including work and education.

“As in all establishments, prisoners have access to reading material and we encourage them to borrow books from our library.

“They are also allowed books in their cells but we do not allow parcels to simply come in unfettered to stop contraband being smuggled in.”

He also said that the prison service is conducting an ongoing recruitment campaign to establish a reserve force of staff to be called on to increase staffing levels when needed.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive at the Howard League for Penal Reform, criticised the Ministry Of Justice’s policy in her reaction to reports on Brixton, Bristol and Elmley prisons.

“It is the policies of a madhouse to cram more and more people behind bars while starving the prisons of the staff and resources required to manage them safely,” she said.

“How can we expect people to turn their lives around in an environment where violence and drug abuse is rife, while staff charged with assessing risk and addressing offending behaviour do not have the training or support to do their job?

“Sadly we have witnessed a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ attitude within the Ministry of Justice.

“It remains to be seen whether ministers will accept the gravity of the crisis assailing prisons in England and Wales, or indeed whether they will accept there is a crisis at all.”

Picture courtesy of sarflondondunc, with thanks

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