Prison Broke: Britain’s Crimewave Behind Bars

Image courtesy of AuntieP, used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

[Excerpted from a piece for my new employer, The Morning Star — the UK’s leading socialist daily paper. No, the Guardian isn’t socialist. Shush.]

Prison guards are a stoic bunch.

So when one of them says the criminal justice system is “heading for meltdown,” it might be time to take stock.

The Prison Officers Association (POA), which represents prison staff across the country, has called an urgent delegates’ conference after a spate of prison riots and attacks on officers throughout Britain.

Tabloids seized on a series of disturbances in November at Moorland prison, Doncaster, where inmates refused to return to their cells three nights in a row.

Three officers were injured, computers and televisions were smashed, fires were set alight and one prisoner even attempted suicide in the chaos.

Meanwhile inmates at nearby Warren Hill also refused to return to their cells, prompting another callout.

Just weeks later the infamous new year’s riot at Ford open prison, West Sussex, ended with inmates setting fire to accommodation, the gymnasium, the mail room and recreational facilities.

Reporters soon learned that only two officers and four support staff had been on duty on the evening the riot broke out – coincidentally the exact same arrangement chief inspector of prisons Dame Anne Owers had found “extremely difficult” when she inspected the prison in October 2008.

Then officers were injured in a brawl at Swaleside prison, Kent.

A spokesperson for the prison service said the incident was “entirely different” from circumstances at Ford, but just three days later two more officers were attacked at Littlehey, Cambridgeshire, kicking off yet another riot.

One officer allegedly received serious burns from a jug of boiling water thrown at them, while the other was knocked unconscious.

One officer at Littlehey described the prison as “lawless,” and said that he considered quitting his job on a daily basis.

But union leaders say the government is as much to blame for the breakdown as the offenders.

While photos of Ford’s torched facilities have splashed across the front pages, the riots are only symptoms of another kind of vandalism – a systematic understaffing and underfunding which is laying waste to the prisons service itself.

[You can find the rest here, and I can assure you the stats really do stack up. As much as the media loves a manufactured crisis, this one is legit — and scary as hell for anyone who has any faith at all in the justice system.]

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