Why officers walked out at prison near Market Harborough

Prison officers during their walk-out at Gartree Prison. Photo: Nick Shaw HFM
Prison officers during their walk-out at Gartree Prison. Photo: Nick Shaw HFM

More than 200 prison officers staged a walk-out at Gartree Prison, near Market Harborough, last Friday, as part of a national day of protest.

The prison officers, members of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), which represents 90 per cent of Gartree staff, were protesting against “unprecedented” levels of jail violence across the country.

They say the violence is linked to chronic staff shortages.

Prison staff at Gartree told the Mail that assaults on staff in their prison had increased by 50 per cent in two years.

Staff shortages are to blame, and also the rise of psychoactive drugs and a re-categorisation of Gartree as a “training prison”, which brings prisoners there at an earlier, and often more volatile, stage of their prison life, staff said.

“Standards have dropped” said the POA’s branch chairman at Gartree, Darryl Roberts. “In the last four years the prison has declined from a level four to a level two, which is well below par.”

POA branch secretary at Gartree, Shane Kennedy, added: “We regularly find weapons at Gartree and prisoners under the influence of psychoactive drugs.”

The drugs are smuggled into the hospital on letters to prisoners, the two men said. The letters are soaked in a liquid form of different drugs.

The prison now has a “rapiscan” machine to examine letters for drugs. Prisoners are handed a photocopied version of their letter.

The latest independent inspectors report on Gartree backs the staff’s concerns.

The report, in March this year, said Gartree had declined from “safe and stable” in 2014 to a prison which had “lost its way”.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, concluded: “It was clear to us that staff shortages had played a substantial part in Gartree’s deterioration”.

Gartree holds around 700 prisoners, including the largest group of life-sentence prisoners in the UK.

Last week, POA general secretary, Steve Gillan had called for all association members in England and Wales to take protest action outside their jails from 7am to 1pm.

Mr Gillan said staff across the country are suffering 25 assaults a day, up a quarter on the year and almost triple the number in 2010.

He told TalkRadio: “The correlation of that level of assaults with the budget cuts we have endured just can’t be ignored any longer.”