In Brief

Prison governors' chief blames ministers for jail crisis

'Perverse' reforms have contributed to a 'toxic mix' of pressures, says Andrea Albutt

The president of the Prison Governors Association says the prison system in England and Wales is in crisis following "perverse" government reforms and a "toxic mix" of pressures on the service.

In "a blistering attack on the Ministry of Justice" (MoJ), reports the Huffington Post, Andrea Albutt said prison chiefs had seen "nothing tangible" from ministers to ease the burden on prisons, leaving them facing "unacceptable stress and anxiety" on a daily basis.

"We know many prisons are in crisis - and I deliberately use that term because it can't be dressed up in any other way," she said.

Albutt also attacked a "perverse" decision to separate operational control of prisons from responsibility for policy, which she claimed was taking experienced staff out of jails to work for the Ministry of Justice. The policy was "certainly not cost effective", she said.

Danny Shaw, home affairs correspondent at the BBC said the Prison Governors Association had "traditionally been a voice of moderation" and the "criticisms are unlikely to be brushed aside."

Official figures released last week "showed the extent of the violence engulfing prisons, which are plagued by overcrowding and drugs", says The Times. There were 26,643 assaults in the year to March, including a record 7,159 attacks on staff - equivalent to nearly 20 a day.

Violence broke out in two English prisons this week. Riot police were called to HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire for the second day running yesterday, after inmates reportedly seized control of part of a wing, while there was also a separate incident at Erlestoke prison in Wiltshire, which the Ministry of Justice described as a disturbance involving a "small number" of prisoners.

On Monday, The Mount's independent monitoring board "warned of the threat of violence following a series of incidents last summer, saying experienced staff had been lost", The Independent reports. 

John Podmore, a former governor of Brixton, Belmarsh and Swaleside prisons, agreed with Albutt, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme he had never known rioting to be so frequent and long-lasting.

The system was "in a mess", he said, and there had been a "fundamental breakdown" in relations between staff and prisoners.

In addition, high reoffending rates in England and Wales are contributing to concern about the state of prisons. "With prisons in crisis and probation services unable to cope with demand, prisoners are routinely leaving jail with nowhere to live and no prospect of employment," says Buzzfeed News

Official statistics revealed that "10 per cent of long-term prisoners leave jail homeless on their first night" and "just two out of 98 prisoners surveyed were found accommodation before they were released", it added. "Ten per cent were back in jail within 12 weeks."

A spokesman for the MoJ said: “We know that our prisons have faced a number of long-standing challenges, which is why we have taken immediate action to boost prison officer numbers and have created Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service.“This will help to create a distinct, professionalised frontline service and will ensure that policy and operations are working closely together to deliver these much-needed reforms.”

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