Letter: Prison officers denied the key to unlock an impossible system

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The Independent Online
Sir: The anonymous probation officer who wrote about prison conditions ('No way out for HM's inmates', 15 February) demeans his or her article by making inaccurate attacks on prison officers.

True, conditions in many prisons are offensive in the extreme, and true, too, is the claim that the real needs of prisoners often go unaddressed. However, to imply that prison officers are complicit and in some way culpable for conditions in jails is nonsense.

Staff training, though poorly resourced and undervalued by some prison managers, does encourage prison officers to forge constructive and meaningful relationships with prisoners. The overwhelming impediment to such relationships has little to do with staff training and everything to do with overcrowding and grossly inadequate staffing levels. However, against all odds prison officers all over the country, sometimes with and other times without managerial support, dedicate themselves to making life a little more tolerable for prisoners.

Take, for example, the efforts of prison officers at Liverpool Prison, who reorganised prison visiting systems to reduce visitor waiting times and extend lengths of visits, and the brave prison officers at Manchester Prison who risked their lives to rescue sex offenders from rioting prisoners in 1990.

Prison officers, through their union, have also resorted to limited forms of industrial action to highlight squalid prison conditions and to reduce levels of overcrowding. In many respects the Prison Officers' Association can be seen as the only brake against rampant and unchallengeable levels of overcrowding. That is why the Government's Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill seeks to extend dramatically prison privatisation and to remove the right of prison officers to take any form of industrial action.

If the Government is successful, then it will have gone some way to reducing the influence of one of the most effective and vociferous campaigns for prison reform.

Yours sincerely,

DAVID EVANS

General Secretary, Prison

Officers' Association

London, N9

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