A major jobs cull is on the horizon at a North East probation service as machines look set to replace some functions carried out by staff.
The Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company (NCRC), which is run by the French catering company Sodexo, is set to shed 131 jobs (around 30% of its workforce) as chiefs look to cut costs.
Unions have slammed the plans, which have emerged in the wake of a divisive privatisation programme, as “downright dangerous”.
It comes as Sodexo plans to install ATM-style kiosks which would allow offenders to report to services without having to meet an officer.
The move to “biometric reporting” would see an offender’s identity checked using fingerprint technology.
A face-to-face meeting could then be requested by the offender.
It is also thought that low-risk offenders may in future be monitored via a call centre under the plans, which Sodexo insists are in the early stages.
The job cuts are expected to be spread out over a 12-month period.
Probation service union NAPO believes the measures, if implemented, could put the public at risk.
Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO, said members feel let down by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
“We are angry and disappointed about this news. Probation staff have been through hell over the last 18 months dealing with Grayling’s so called reforms and now many of them are facing redundancy and job insecurity.
“When we met with Sodexo earlier this year they told us there would be no reductions in workforce.
“The use of call centres and machines instead of highly skilled staff is down right dangerous and will put the public at risk.”
A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said it was opening consultation on the plans with staff across the six UK centres that it operates.
“We are in the process of sharing our future plans with employees across the six CRCs that we operate, including Northumbria CRC.
“Given that we will be formally consulting on these plans, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
“Regarding the enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme, we are complying with the National Agreement negotiated between the unions and NOMS.
“We are looking at the possibility of introducing biometric systems in the future but details have not yet been confirmed.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Apr 2015
> 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.
“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
> 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