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Union boss warns of risk at violent, crumbling jails

Out of control: Disturbances in HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford PICTURES:BPM/5PILLARS

PRISONS are ‘crumbling’ and staff are unable to keep inmates safe after years of austerity, a union boss says.

Prison Governors Association president Andrea Albutt will tell the union’s annual conference ‘dis-investment’ has contributed to the decline in standards that has hit many jails across England and Wales.

‘We have crumbling prisons and an inability to give a safe, decent and secure regime to large numbers of men and women in our care due to lack of staff, not fit for purpose contracts and a much more violent, disrespectful, gang and drug affiliated population,’ she is expected to say.

The prisons system has been under intense scrutiny after levels of violence, self-harm and drug use behind bars surged. Focus has intensified in recent weeks with the publication of a string of highly critical inspection reports.

Highlighting ‘horrendous’ quarterly statistics on violence, Ms Albutt will say: ‘A constant irritation of mine is the government do not have the humility to admit that they got their policy completely wrong this decade in our prisons.’ She will acknowledge she has ‘waxed lyrical’ about austerity measures in prisons before but will add: ‘Our prisons are in the state they are in due to dis-investment and a complete failure to react to the crisis in a timely manner by government.’

She adds: ‘What this has reaped is the state we are in and the immense struggle we are facing in trying to pull ourselves out of the mire.’

Ms Albutt will call for a ‘massive capital investment’ in prison buildings and a reduction in the jail population.

Hitting back at criticism, she will say the majority of governors are ‘competent, committed and brave’ and will also defend Michael Spurr, who leaves his role as head of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) in March, adding: ‘The last thing we need is another change of direction.’

But Ms Albutt notes there is a ‘more positive feel’ after staff levels were boosted and a strategy around security and safety started to take effect, resulting in ‘green shoots of recovery’.