Impressive image and political/corporate rhetoric but fearful reality
After a series of violent incidents in recent months at HMP Lewes and HMP Bedford, four wings at high-security prison Winson Green had to be sealed after disturbances broke out. About 260 prisoners were involved.
Despite the record of G4S, which now runs five prisons in the UK, management of this prison was handed over to the private sector company in 2011. Unions opposed the deal which reduced staff numbers and pay rates.
So many public sector officers had to be drafted to ‘manage’ the Winson Green ‘dispute’ that control had to be transferred to the (public sector) HM Prison Service.
There have been sharp cuts to prison staff numbers as part of the 2010-15 coalition’s austerity drive even though the prison population has doubled since 1993 to more than 85,000. There are now 65 assaults behind bars every day and in the year to June, assaults on staff jumped 43% to 5,954, with 697 recorded as serious.
Yesterday former Conservative Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove appeared to have a welcome change of heart. His words, reported in a recent speech, were: “I am convinced that we cannot provide the effective level of rehabilitation we need for offenders without either increasing expenditure significantly or reducing prisoner numbers overall, because overcrowded prisons are more likely to be academies of crime, brutalisers of the innocent and incubators of addiction rather than engines of self-improvement.”