Justice secretary Michael Gove warned he will 'lose control' over crisis in prisons

Kate Ferguson,Emma Clark
Monday 11 July 2016 20:48 BST
Prison officers have been staging unofficial strike actions in protest at violence by inmates against them
Prison officers have been staging unofficial strike actions in protest at violence by inmates against them

Justice Secretary and former Conservative Party leadership contender Michael Gove has been accused of being "absent" as Britain's prisons have been plunged into crisis and hit by a series of staff walkouts.

Prison officers have been staging unofficial strike actions up and down the country in protest at spiralling rates of violence by inmates against them.

Labour MP Andy Slaughter accused Mr Gove of failing to get a grip on the crisis, and warned that if he did not do so soon "he is going to lose control fully of the prison estate".

Mr Slaughter, a former shadow justice minister whose Hammersmith constituency in west London includes Wormwood Scrubs prison, where staff staged a walkout in May over safety concerns, raised the issue in an urgent question in the Commons.

The Labour MP said there had been five walkouts in the last five months and acknowledged that Mr Gove has announced £10 million to boost prison safety - but said that is not enough.

He said: "But frankly the Secretary of State has been absent in the last few weeks and we have had an inadequate and reactive response to each crisis

Mr Gove blamed the rise in violence in prisons partly on the growing number of young ex-gang members behind bars and the widespread use of new psychoactive substances - which used to be known as legal highs until they were outlawed in May.

He said: "A central duty of the Ministry of Justice is security in our prison estate. It is imperative that the dedicated professionals who work in our prisons are kept safe.

"It is also critical that we safeguard the welfare of those who are in custody. So it is a profound concern to me that serious assaults against staff in prison have been on the rise recently.

"In the 12 months to December 2015 there have been 625 incidents - an increase of 31%.

Describing why violence has increased so dramatically, Mr Gove added: "The nature of the offenders currently in custody is a factor. Younger offenders who have been involved in gang-related activities pose a particular concern.

"Another factor is the widespread available of new psychoactive substances, NPS, synthetically manufactured drugs which are more difficult to detect than traditional cannabis and opiates."

He said more than 2,800 prison officers have been recruited since January 2015, body-worn cameras have been deployed and psychoactive substances have been outlawed.

And he stressed his door is open to staff with concerns.

Mr Slaughter accused the Justice Secretary of not saying anything new and warned that prison staff are reporting incidents of violence on a "daily basis".

He said: "The situation on our prison estate continued to deteriorate as you concede, we have heard nothing new today that we haven't heard before.

"Over the weekend prison staff held crisis meetings across the country amid concerns about their security and safety in the workplace and incidents of violent disorder are reported on a daily basis."

Press Association

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