Prison staff reforms could lead to riots, unions warn

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The Independent Online

Britain's jails will facing growing risks of riots and disturbances because of reforms to prison working practices, union leaders have warned.

They said the shake-up would leave low-ranking staff in charge of the vital job of maintaining security and discipline and take experienced prison officers away from the day-to-day management of wings.

Prison officers have condemned plans to create a new bottom grade of "operations officers", to oversee day-to-day security on prison wings, and hand work with rehabilitation, education and resettlement to a higher tier of "residential officers".

They also object to plans to scrap the most senior tier of uniformed prison officer and transform them into "operations managers".

The Ministry of Justice insisted that the changes would not compromise security and would recognise the wide range of work prison officers carry out.

Leaders of the Prison Officers Association (POA) urged members to reject the reforms, despite being offered a three-year pay deal worth 4.75 per cent. Brian Caton, general secretary of the POA, said: "If we do not secure a safer and more secure way forward for the prison service it is almost inevitable that there will be disorder."

He said the reforms would "de-skill" the prison service, branding the new grade of officers as "turnkeys" who would have no role in preparing prisoners for a life outside jail.

The POA has also objected to proposals to force prison officers to take an annual fitness test by running round a set of bollards in a fixed time.

The Prisons minister David Hanson said: "A 4.75 per cent consolidated pay increase over three years is an attractive deal at a time of economic uncertainty. The decision by the POA national executive to urge rejection of this offer will be seen over time not to have been in the interests of its members."