HACRO President calls for more effective strategy for hard pressed prison system

The recent disruption at HMP The Mount is not unexpected, and it is likely to be reproduced elsewhere. While prison staff cope heroically under extremely difficult and often dangerous conditions, these recent events reflect the government’s apparent policy of running prisons short-staffed.

HMP The Mount was never fully staffed to cope with the opening in 2015 of its new wing for 250 extra prisoners. The latest Independent Monitoring Board Report for 2016-17 (July 2017) shows the prison to be running at 17% below its full complement of staff.

A big concern is that staff shortages affect all aspects of the rehabilitation agenda. For example, in education and training where our charity has direct experience:

• Wing closures for prolonged periods (mornings and afternoons) mean men are not available for classes
• Lack of staff means men cannot be transferred to education classes
• Education and resettlement training (which reduce recidivism) is severely disrupted
• For the first time in 10 years HACRO volunteers are being told there is no point coming in to run classes where there are no men to tutor

If the consequence of short staffing is that prisoners are locked up with very little time out of their cells for teaching or even for fresh air, then it becomes inevitable that tensions build up and then trouble breaks out.

Why won’t the government give urgent attention to prisons?  The Chief Inspector of Prisons has forcefully made the case; the reports of IMB’s make the case; privatising the bigger half of probation has led to a wholesale reduction in professional probation expertise; cuts in Police numbers have led to severe resourcing issues affecting crime prevention.

Cuts in prison staffing produce a tinderbox prison system, not reform.  It is short-sighted, and while individual budgets have been cut to achieve targets with the right hand, the taxpayer is left to pick up the bill with the left.

Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic by changing the Justice Secretary every year (Grayling – Gove – Truss – Liddington) clearly isn’t working.  It’s time surely to develop a positive long-term effective strategy.

Yasmin Batliwala
President, HACRO