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Rising Jail Population, Staff Cuts to Blame for Prison Riots in England & Wales

© Photo : PixabayPrison population
Prison population - Sputnik International
Prisons in England and Wales have been described as being in the grip of a crisis, exacerbated by a rising jail population and cuts to prison staff.

Within 24 hours of each other, violent riots erupted at two jails in England, elsewhere, two inmates drilled through their cell bars with diamond-tipped cutters making their get-away.  

The escape from Pentonville jail in north London, comes after a routine inspection found bunks stained with blood and inmates stuck in their cells for 23 hours a day.

"When their cells are unlocked at their allocated time, inmates are feeling pent up and frustrated and that's a worrying concern for prisoners and staff safety," Mike Rolfe, national chair of the Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA), told Sputnik.

On Sunday, November 6, footage emerged from Bedford prison showing prisoners rioting and running through corridors and attempting to smash windows.

Events such as these will, according to Mr. Rolfe, become more commonplace as cuts to English and Welsh jails continue.  

"When riots erupt, prisoners are now more confident they can take control as they know there isn't enough staff," Mr. Rolfe said.

"When you lose control and order, it's worrying if there is not sufficient staff numbers to secure the environment."

Since 2010, the number of frontline prison officers has fallen by more than a quarter to 18,003 staff working in public sector jails. These are mainly officers working in specialist or supervisory roles.

"Government cuts have severed 30 percent of all frontline operational staff, leaving the security, control and discipline of prisoners of secondary importance," Mr. Rolfe told Sputnik.

Mr. Rolfe, who has worked in the penal system for 14 years, says the onus is on liberalizing jails, not securing them, which isn't effective.

"For effective rehabilitation, prisons need discipline, order, control and enough staff. They bring security and discipline with them."

Mr. Rolfe admits though, that there is no "magic cure."

"It's not just about education, not everyone will be rehabilitated, there's no magic cure for everyone. But when you have prison officers who are like probation officers, social workers and teachers, and who work with them to help turn their lives around, that are when rehabilitation can work."

And while prison staff numbers are low and punishment remains insincere, "prisoners will continue to test the system which is why we're seeing riots and escapes," Mr. Rolfe added. 

Prisoner - Sputnik International
Calls for Inquiry After Evidence of Rampant Violence in UK Jails

'Security Should Always be the Priority'

Meanwhile Justice Secretary Liz Truss has announced plans to reform prions, including recruiting more officers.

"As an immediate action we have already invested US$14 million to provide more than 400 extra staff in 10 of the most challenging prisons," a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said. But for Mr. Rolfe, is too little, too late.

"If we don't resource prisons properly with staff or finances, we'll be sending people back into the community who haven't been rehabilitated but have become hardened criminals," Mike Rolfe told Sputnik, adding that prisoners need to know that there is a punishment system in place, "rather than a penal system that plays lip service to locking up criminals." 

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