Prisons in Britain will face fresh riots as a result of government austerity measures, the prison officers’ leader has warned in the wake of the riot at Ford Open Prison.
Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said future inmate uprisings are inevitable because of staff shortages and misguided attempts to ease overcrowding.
The comments came after Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt promised that lessons would be learnt following an inmate rampage at Ford Open Prison on New Year’s Day.
About 40 prisoners are thought to have set fire to two buildings, a gym complex and a portacabin, shortly after midnight. Windows of other prison buildings were smashed and fire alarms set off.
Specialist teams of prison officers were deployed to deal with the incident. There were no reports of any injuries to staff or prisoners.
Speaking to The Guardian, Mr Gillan said that, because of pressures on the prison system, convicts in high-security jails are being moved to open prisons before they are ready for rehabilitation.
“We are concerned about the number of assaults on prison officers,” he said.
“There will be more prison riots to come with these budget cuts. We are facing a real risk of other prisoners copycatting those sorts of riots.”
The POA leader threatened legal action to ensure that the safety of officers, inmates and the public is not put at risk by planned government budget cuts.
He said: “We are nearly 1,000 prison staff short and we are now looking at making prison staff redundant.
“Because of overcrowding we are getting the wrong sort of prisoners being put in open conditions. They are not ready for it and the regimes are not ready for (them). Its being done to ease the pressure in other parts of the (service).”
Mr Gillan continued: “If our members’ health and safety are at risk we will protect them. We will not rule anything out. We are actively looking at what we can do under health and safety legislation...to ensure that the Government is complying.”
Mr Blunt visited Ford Open Prison yesterday to survey the damage after rampaging inmates took control, torched buildings and smashed windows.
It is thought the rebellion started after guards attempted to breathalyse prisoners for contraband alcohol in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
A Prison Service inquiry has been launched that will examine what sparked the violence and whether insufficient staffing levels were to blame. Police have also launched an investigation.
During the early stages of the rebellion, just two officers and four support staff were on duty, at a centre which holds around 500 inmates.
Mr Blunt said: “We must learn the lessons to make sure it does not recur.”
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