The POA says one option is to put more prisoners in police cells; another is to let more go
4:45am UK, Thursday January 19, 2012
Overcrowding in Britain’s prisons is reaching crisis point and could lead to widespread riots – with staff struggling to regain control.
The warning has come from the Prison Officers Association (POA) which says the Government is ignoring its concerns.
POA national chairman Peter McParlin told Sky News: “Effectively prisons are full now. Eighty-three out of 134 prisons now are officially regarded as overcrowded.
“They’re expecting two private prisons to open in the Spring but I anticipate with the increase in prisoners that they will be full soon and I would imagine certainly by the middle of the year we will be reaching a crisis point.”
The POA fears many more scenes like these at Ford Open Prison
Mr McParlin went on: “How Government decide to deal with that crisis is going to be extremely interesting. We’ve been in conversations with them in which we’ve asked them to reopen mothballed prisons – prisons that were at the cutting edge of the rehabilitation revolution – but they are refusing to do that.
“The other options open to them are to put prisoners in police cells which are prohibitively expensive – far more expensive than locking up prisoners in the prison estate.
“Or they could consider something which I think would be politically difficult for the Conservatives – a release system. I would hope that wouldn’t be a knee jerk release system as happened under the past Labour Government.”
Prisoner Wade Walsh
Mr McParlin is also warning of more unrest in prisons.
“The number of prison officers we have will be inadequate to cope with riot situations in our prisons and if we continue as we are – warehousing prisoners – not being able to build the relationships between prisoners and prison officers that have been successful in the past – we will see riots in our prisons in which we will not be able to cope.
“We are an essential service – an emergency service – but we need to be able to have the resources to cope with what’s coming our way.”
Sky News has gained exclusive access to HMP Shrewsbury, which houses 329 inmates despite being built for 170.
The governor, Gerry Hendry, believes rehabilitation is the key to cutting reoffending and reducing prisoner numbers.
The prison founded a charity – Fresh Start New Beginnings – which offers training courses as well as counselling for prisoners. It relies on volunteers who work with inmates and continue to mentor them for a year after their release.
“We realise that among the many things that cause people to reoffend are lack of housing, unemployment and basic lack of support,” Mr Hendry told Sky News.
“So through the charity we can find appropriate housing, housing away from the area where the prisoner has lived and committed their offences. We look at finding some form of activity, whether that’s paid or voluntary is very much dependent on the skill of the individual.”