A youth jail plagued by violence has been put on lockdown after prison officers suffered five serious assaults in the last few days.
Almost 300 inmates were kept in their cells at Wetherby prison and young offenders institute in North Yorkshire, while staff withdrew to a “place of safety” as urgent talks were held over strengthening the supervision of dangerous teenagers.
The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said the crisis was symptomatic of increasing violence in overcrowded and short-staffed jails across England and Wales, with numbers of serious attacks of staff nearly doubling in the last five years.
Officers at Wetherby invoked health and safety legislation which enables them to withdraw from the prison wings, protesting that management was failing to protect staff from assault.
Steve Gillan, the POA’s general secretary, told the Independent: “It’s a drastic measure for staff to take and one they will have thought long and hard about. But they have got the right to be safe at work, or as safe as they can practically be.”
Warning that violence was “out of control” behind bars, he said: “The Government can keep being in denial about the impact of the budget cuts, but I have never known the prison service as desperate as this.”
The incident was finally resolved after several hours, when managers are understood to have agreed to toughen the risk-assessment of offenders released from the care and separation unit.
An HM Inspectorate of Prisons report into Wetherby last January found that 212 acts of violence had been recorded in the previous six months, including 39 assaults on staff.
Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “An institution beset by fear, violence and self-harm is no place to hold children and young people safely and securely, never mind enable them to turn their lives around. Nothing can be achieved unless staff and children feel safe.”