Tagged: panic button

HMP Northumberland: Whistleblower says teachers are in fear at ‘powderkeg’ jail

> Another victory for outsourcing…

Teachers at a ‘shambolic’ jail have been left fearing for their safety after inmates are turning up ‘drunk’ and ‘on drugs’ it has been claimed.

A member of staff, who works for Manchester College and teaches at HMP Northumberland, said staff were faced with inmates coming into lessons visibly drunk or high on drugs.

Often, 12 classrooms were monitored by a single prison guard, leaving members of the teaching staff afraid for their safety – despite having access to panic buttons.

An HMIP report on the jail revealed one in three inmates said it was easy, or very easy, to access drugs behind bars at the Sodexo run jail.

A letter seen by the NEC said civilian staff were regularly in contact with intoxicated ‘unpredictable’ prisoners.

It said:

“The teachers inside the jail are civilians working for an outside college and we rely on the officers presence to ensure our safety.

“Now the officers have been drastically reduced we are having to work with only one, or no officers present in the various education areas on the site, sometimes with upwards of 12 classes in one area and our safety is severely at risk.

“Teachers have repeatedly voiced concerns about not feeling safe because of the lack of officers but our management do not act on our concerns.

“We are having to deal with inmates turning up to class drunk and on drugs and their behaviour is unpredictable.”

The anonymous letter said some inmates had been found with ‘blades’ in class.

Staff and campaigners have voiced serious concerns about the dramatic fall in staffing levels at the jail, from 441 in 2010 to 270 in 2013.

> Well, what do they expect ?  Shareholders demand higher profits, and paying fewer wages is an one way to do that. Profit above all else.

In the past year 12 members of Manchester College have left the jail which the staff member has put down to safety concerns.

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck where the jail is based, has raised his concerns with justice secretary Chris Grayling in the House of Commons as well as calling for a review of Sodexo’s contract to run the jail but in his latest response Mr Grayling said he looks forward to seeing the prison improve.

Mr Lavery said:

“My office is now receiving lots of anonymous allegations about HMP Northumberland, all of which express serious views on the safety of everyone on the prison estate be it employees or prisoners.

“The latest was from a concerned prisoner describing the place as a ‘nuclear bomb ready to explode’.

“I will continue to raise these issues and will not back off until the prison is seen to be a safe place to be for everyone.

“I don’t want to be any way responsible for ignoring the desperate pleas for help in indeed a tragedy were to occur.”

A spokesman for Sodexo Justice Services said:

“The safety and security of prisoners, staff and visitors at HMP Northumberland is our highest priority.

“We have regular contact with Manchester College which runs the education courses at the prison. College staff can raise any issues through the appropriate channels which they are aware of and we urge them to do so if they have any concerns.”

A Statement released by Manchester College said:

“We take our duty of care to staff seriously, and work closely with Sodexo to maintain a safe working environment at the prison.

“We provide procedures for teachers to raise their concerns, and when they do we investigate thoroughly in conjunction with prison management.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Feb 2015

More PCS Union And ‘Help To Work changes

> Following from yesterday’s post PCS Union And ‘Help To Work changes  the following extracts come from a post on the PCS website on 25 April 2014  (link to full article at bottom of this post).

More worrying stuff….


Staffing and resources

PCS believe that there are not enough staff in jobcentres to deliver the additional work. With more staff leaving in June and beyond, workloads and stress will increase leading to longer waiting for claimants, potential for more incidents, and ill health for members. This understaffing must be addressed through more recruitment.

> None of which you need a crystal ball to work out.


Learning and Development

Districts have provided assurance to state that over 80% of staff are sufficiently trained on SR13/HtW. PCS raised specific concerns that some staff had only been sent emails or had not been trained in the English Language assessment process.

The GEC advises members not to complete the full requirements and new tasks where training has not been provided, and to make line managers aware. Seek advice from a local PCS representative if you want to raise your concerns in writing.

> So you – and the chance of you getting sanctioned – may be in the hands of a ‘Work Coach’ (snigger…) who may not actually know what they’re doing – although from personal experience that’s often the case with existing Advisers anyway. But this point may have some use in the future if you need to appeal a sanction – was the job coach qualified to make the decision to start with ? You might also point out in interviews that the PCS suggest they  “not  complete the full requirements and new tasks where training has not been provided”.

Extension to interview times

The project managers responsible for the SR13/HtW have stated that additional funding of 12 minutes for new claims interviews has been agreed by Treasury to deliver the additional tasks associated with Day One Conditionality and the English Language assessment. The 12 minutes was identified by a work study report of the pilot sites which is yet to be shared with PCS.

The GEC has received feedback that sites are not extending diary times by 12 minutes. The project management have stated that this would be a business decision, and although the additional funding will be allocated, Work Services management do not have to extend interview times. We have asked management to reconsider their position on this matter as it is unacceptable to expect members to complete more work in the same amount of time.

The GEC advises members to state that they cannot complete the new tasks in the same interview time, to make their line manager aware and seek PCS help if required.

Work Search Review interventions should be timed at 6 minutes. The GEC has raised similar concerns that this timing may not be adequate, nor is it currently being allocated at each jobcentre.

Delivery of interventions

PCS has received feedback that some jobcentres are proposing to conduct daily work search review whilst the claimant uses a Web Access Device (WAD). The GEC has requested that DWP make clear that this is not appropriate.

The work search review should entail challenging conditionality, and therefore has the potential to create a flashpoint. The Jobcentre Plus Environmental Guide (JPEG) sets out clear and specific standards for these interventions taking place at a desk. Not only does this give the member of staff appropriate distance and an escape route, there is also the use of a panic button as a control measure.

> Good grief ! Siege mentality or what ?  If only we on the other side of the desk had an escape route.

the use of a panic button as a control measure” has a nasty ring about it too. Maybe they should be issued with tasers or electric cattle prods too ?

Even as part of freedoms and flexibilities, minimal space and exit routes should be adhered to. Management produced guidance in November 2012 states “there are no purely design-based constraints within JPEG.

Any changes to front of house business delivery should be supported a local risk assessment. The GEC cannot conceive it possible for a risk assessment to not identify serious risks in challenging conditionality and possibly identifying a doubt whilst stood or sat directly next to a claimant.

> So perhaps the best “escape route” would be to refuse to implement the measures that might put you in danger ? Must be something in the Health & Safety sphere covering that ?

Group Signing

Current SR13/HtW guidance states that weekly and daily interventions cannot be delivered by group session, as the treasury funding was based on individual face to face interventions.

This has now been changed within the last week to allow for group daily or weekly jobsearch reviews. The intention is still to allow for individual signing interactions following the group session.

> Now I hadn’t heard of this before… is this how they intend to deal with increased numbers of signing – stuff 50 people in a room and do it en masse ?

The GEC have asked that clear guidance is produced centrally on how these sessions will take place, including a risk assessment on the process.

Management have stated that group sessions should not be used in this way until the guidance has been produced and shared. Branches should challenge locally and escalate to national level if group signing is being conducted without the proper guidance and risk assessment.

Changing of attendance times

At the meeting on 24th April, DWP were not able to provide a clear reason for the instruction to change attendance times/days for weekly signing every four weeks.

They have denied that there is policy intent to ‘frustrate claimants off benefit’; they will provide PCS with clarification on why the guidance exists. Branches are asked to send in examples of local instructions which direct advisers to change times more frequently without reasonable logic.

> I would love to see the official interpretation of  “reasonable logic” – more scary perhaps is the implication that the PCS might actually accept an explanation as reasonable logic, and thus tell members to enforce it.


As reported in DWP/BB/069/14, the GEC were not consulted at all on the pilots in Bradford, Cardiff and Poole. DWP have apologised for this lack of consultation, and will be providing the evaluations for our analysis.

Management have stated that increases in footfall were managed through changing office layout, and there was no increase in incidents on the pilot sites. PCS has expressed concerns that the pilot sites may not have implemented the full measures, and therefore the findings may invalid.

> Just wait till everywhere is doing it ! I suspect it may take more than just moving the furniture around

There is more – i think these bits are the ones that affect those of us facing daily signing directly, but you might want to check the full article at the link below, and comment if you read anything differently.