‘Over-crowded, under-staffed and unsafe’: Charity slams prison officer cuts at Wormwood Scrubs, Brixton and Wandsworth

Wormwood Scrubs, Brixton and Wandsworth are three prisons that have suffered some of the worst cuts in staff numbers since 2010.

The 112 prisons in England and Wales have seen prison officer numbers slashed by 41% in less than four years, due severe cuts in spending imposed by the Ministry of Justice.

The figures were obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform, who warned in July that prisons were already at ‘breaking point’.

Robert Preece, press officer for the prison charity, told SW Londoner: “Half of prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs have said they felt unsafe – this is one of the direct results of staff shortages.”

The charity also said there has also been a rise in suicides and lack of time spent outside the cells, due to not having enough supervisory staff, leaving prisoners idle for hours.

The problems lie mainly in the south of the country and currently prison guards from the north are being transferred down to help out, staying in hotels at the cost of £500 a week.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League, called this arrangement a ‘shameful waste’ of taxpayers’ money that would only create ‘more disruptions’ in jails.

Safety concerns were also raised in a report on Wormwood Scrubs.

Ms Crook said: “This is a potentially disastrous situation, asking low-paid, demoralised staff to respond to emergencies in a place they don’t know.”

There are now only 14,170 officers working in state-run prisons compared to the 24,000 working in August 2010.

Cuts include 1,375 officers being made redundant and 15 public sector prisons being closed.

The drop in officers nationwide has coincided with a huge prison overcrowding crisis and a rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody.

Wandsworth is one of the most overcrowded prisons, second to only Swansea prison, with the Howard League revealing they are at 169% capacity of their certified normal accommodation.

Wandsworth also saw the biggest loss of prison officers in the South London prisons, with 167 officers being made redundant since 2010, 35% of their officer workforce.

Ms Crook believes there is only one solution to this crisis, reduce prison population.

She said: “There are many people in custody who have not committed serious or violent offences and it is time for a hard look at who we send to prison and why.”

Having made officers redundant, the Ministry of Justice is struggling to recruit the urgently needed prison officers, especially in London.

Ms Crook concluded: “These are desperate times, and ministers are resorting to desperate measures.”

Picture courtesy of Derek Harper, with thanks

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