Prison and Police Officers Protest – A Taste of Things to Come?
It is a cry we hear far too often, the one which says “We never see the police around here”,
What we are now seeing because of the Coalition Governments policing policy of cutting front line police officers by 16,000 and the policing budgets by 20% it is going to be a stark fact that people will not see any policing in their area.
According to the Government it will have ‘no significant impact’ on policing which of course because it comes from the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition Government everyone automatically believes it.
OK perhaps they don’t but the belief appears to be in Westminster that if you say something often enough it will take on a mythological truth all of its own.
To see Yvette Cooper MP marching with the off duty police in London is not only welcome but a start to providing the leadership and support that the police and the public are entitled to receive in tackling crime and preventing victims of crime.
Some months ago I wrote a blog on the dangers of cutting the numbers of those who are employed to protect us from the criminals, many of who are prepared to use violence, whether it is the police on the streets or those employed in the Prison Service keeping those convicted in custody.
What is remarkable is that following the Prison Officer strike in 2007 the Government or Prison Service Board doesn’t seem to have learned the lessons and have continued to cut prison officer numbers which are now at a critically low-level in the majority of prisons putting staff in danger.
What many people don’t realise is that the number of people working in a prison who are not trained prison officers from education staff, workshop instructors, catering staff, probation staff, medical staff, psychologists and clerical staff et al far outnumbers the prison officers on duty.
Across the prison estate at least one assault on staff takes place daily some with very serious consequences where the member of staff is forced to retire as a result of their injuries.
In the Queens speech yesterday the Government lauded their Justice proposals in which the intention is to increase and strengthen, making community sentences more severe including ‘full time’ community service sentences.
What is not clear is who will supervise the community service offenders given the cuts that are being introduced to the probation service at the same time as increasing community sentencing and cutting police numbers.
The frustration at being ignored by an increasingly out of touch Government who clearly don’t understand the difficulties, pressures and complexity of prison officers working in our prisons has become very clear today with prison officers walking out of their establishments.
Prisons of course are a special case simply because when prison officers walk out they leave behind an establishment with prisoners, who by nature are collectively volatile locked up for very long periods, and who if left for a prolonged period are likely to take concerted disruptive action of the type we saw with the riots in HMP Ashwell and HMP Ford which is one of the major factors and concerns of prison staff.
It has to be said that throughout the day (10th May 2012) we have seen Government Ministers talking of their ‘disappointment’ over the action taken by prison officers and casting doubt on the motives of the Prison Officers Association which is typical of those who believe that as Francis Maude MP said this morning in justifying ignoring the protests that “the protests are futile”.
A statement that sums up the whole approach of what is becoming an increasingly out of touch and incompetent Government.
There is great concern amongst the police and the prison management at all levels about the direction the Government is taking, concerns that are falling on deaf ears and sadly will only be listened too in the event of their being a major incident either within the prion service or as we saw last summer on the streets of our major cities.
It is during such incidents that the Government invariably state how grateful they are for the officers involved and how much they respect and support them.
Only time will tell if we will see a repeat this year.
In the meantime I’m pleased that Labour is listening and supporting all public sector staff working in the area of public safety and as we are in Northampton hope that nationally we will continue to hold the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition accountable for the damaging cuts they are imposing on public safety.