Northumberland prison is a ‘powder keg’ according to MPs

> Another success story for privatisation….

The prison service is “a powder keg” and it’s only a matter of time before staff are seriously hurt, an MP has warned.

Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, urged Ministers to act over a dramatic increase in assaults on prison officer staff.

And speaking in the House of Commons, he highlighted staff cuts at HMP Northumberland, which was transferred to private management 12 months ago.

Sodexo Justice Services now runs the prison after winning a 15-year contract worth an estimated £250 million.

It comes after a number of MPs raised concerns about working conditions in the nation’s prisons.

Work commissioned by the Prison Officers’ Association and conducted by academics warned of high levels of stress among prison staff, and found 65 per cent of prison officers often thought about quitting the job.

A Commons motion warning MPs are “deeply concerned at the findings of the report” was signed by Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell and North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon as well as Mr Lavery.

The MPs urged the Government “to conduct an urgent inquiry into the prison system and the terms and conditions of those trying to professionally carry out an important public service under the most difficult of circumstances”.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Lavery said:

“The Prison Service is not only in crisis, but is a powder keg.

“Somebody must be held accountable because someone, somewhere will be seriously hurt in the Prison Service.

“Nine members of staff are assaulted daily, which means 3,400 a year, up 9.4 per cent.

“More dramatically, serious assaults on staff have increased by 36% since 2010.”

He highlighted the situation at HMP Northumberland, where around 50 inmates took over a wing in riots in March.

He asked Justice Minister Andrew Selous: “Does the Minister share my concerns about the situation at HMP Northumberland, which is in my area?

“When that prison was privatised, Sodexo immediately reduced the work force by a third, yet the prison population has been increasing.

“Have not prison officers who are left to carry out the work every right to be stressed? What will the Minister do about it?”

The Minister told the Commons:

“Those who manage contracted prisons absolutely have a duty to make sure that they keep their staff as well.”

The Government was taking action to protect prison officers, he said.

“We are working towards a new protocol for escalating matters when prison staff are victims of assault to the  which rightly recognises the seriousness of these incidents.”

“The evidence that the Prison Service continues to provide a rewarding career in which staff are able to change lives is irrefutable.

“It is demonstrated in the commitment and tenacity that prison officers have shown in recent months in the difficult circumstances that I have described.

“It is also evident in the organisation’s ability to attract 1,700 new prison officer recruits.”

Sodexo Justice Services operates one prison in Scotland and three in England.

It is part of the French multinational Sodexo Group, which provides services including catering, cleaning and security.

The first jail to be transferred from public to private operation was HMP Birmingham, which is run by G4S.

Fourteen other prisons in England and Wales have been privately managed since they were opened.

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has also expressed concern about staff cuts introduced by Sodexo at HMP Northumberland.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  11 Dec 2014

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