Around 5,000 prison staff across England and Wales briefly walked off their jobs on Friday in protest over skyrocketing violence that sees 27 workers assaulted every day.
Prison conditions have deteriorated sharply since austerity measures introduced in recent years saw the system lose around 20 percent of its operational staff.
Four urgent reports issued in the past year about safety in the 127 correctional facilities found the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and inmates effectively assuming control.
The POA trade union — an organization that accounts for 90 percent of the estimated 30,000 prison workers in England and Wales — called for staff to stage pickets outside prisons until further notice.
“There have been 31,025 prisoner on prisoner assaults since 2010 — up 108 percent,” POA National Executive Committee member Dave Cook told AFP. “There are 27.4 assaults on staff in per day. That is up 197 percent,” he said. “Twenty-seven prison workers will get assaulted today.”
The trade union called off its action a matter of hours after Justice Minister Rory Stewart accused it of breaking the law and threated to seek court action to force staff back to work.
POA said the union decided to call off the protests “following meaningful engagement” with the minister and a commitment to develop a joint action plan.
Prisons Minister @RoryStewartUK gives an update on today's protest action:
“I am pleased that all parties have been able to bring a swift resolution to this action which, as I have made clear, was irresponsible & placed fellow staff & prisons at risk.
— Ministry of Justice (@MoJGovUK) September 14, 2018
Stewart vowed in August to quit within a year if he failed to reduce the level of drugs and violence.
He has since promised to invest £10 million ($13 million) into the 10 most troubled prisons to help search for drugs and provide staff training and support. But POA member Cook called the minister’s commitment woefully insufficient.
“All of our prisons are violent. Put those hundreds of millions of pounds (cut in 2012) back into all our prisons.”
Cook said staff felt unsafe because they were only armed with extendable batons that they relied on as a measure of last resort.
“In most incidents, prisoners assault staff from the back without any warning,” Cook said. “We need pepper spray, handcuffs, prison dogs, real drug reduction and violence reduction programmes.”