John Bartell, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said: 'He did not appear to understand our warning of the danger of destroying officers' esprit de corps - I don't think that message got home.' Mr Howard's policies conflicted with the 'operational realities' facing an overcrowded and volatile system.
The prison officers are the latest to sound warnings of riots as the prison population continues to soar in the wake of tough new law-and-order policies. Derek Lewis, the Director-General of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and governors have also spoken of a risk of unrest.
The POA announced last week a programme of selective industrial action in protest at privatisation and a breakdown in jail discipline.
Mr Bartell, who met Mr Howard at the Home Office, said the Home Secretary had reiterated his commitment to the 'market testing' of state-run prisons for possible takeover by private companies.
Mr Bartell said: 'We told him he could not expect officers to go into life-threatening situations and sort out the riots predicted by the head of the prison service, only to be told by that same person they had got to compete for their jobs with the private sector.'
They had not discussed the industrial action. However, he warned that if the POA did not see any 'concrete movement' on its demands, the action would be stepped up.
Mr Howard said later he was 'sensitive' to many of the POA's concerns, and had already announced new measures to ensure effective control in prisons.
Letter, page 17