The Prison Officer’s Union (the POA) looks set to reject the governments latest pay offer. Whilst the 4.75% pay deal over 3 years may seem not so bad against the backdrop of a recession, the deal is tied to a ‘modernisation’ package which includes creating a two-tier workforce in prisons of ‘residential officers’ (ie. Current prison officers) and newly created ‘operations officers’ that are supposed to have the same training but with less pay and less duties (seems like the prison equivalent of PCSOs). Around 30% of all prison officers are to be operations officers by 2010.
This will obviously save the government lots of money, according to the POA press release of 13th Feburary 2009, these proposals alongside others will save £240million in 2009 and upto £500million over the next few years. And if Prison Officer’s reject the deal, the BBC state “Straw said that if the deal was rejected this week he would have to "take stock" of a previous pledge to limit the market-testing of prisons to the five whose service level agreements come up for renewal over the next five years.”
But one potential upshot of the policy is the government spending less on prisons – is this a good thing? As Brian Caton, POA General Secretary, stated in the same press release “POA members want a ‘fair days pay for a fair days work’, we want prisons to be fit for purpose and not warehouses. We demand safe prisons that have adequate professional staff to serve the public.”
The government policy is one of continuing their ongoing expansion of the prison system whilst attacking staff conditions and the resources that actually go into rehabilitation and safety within those institutions. This will not benefit neither staff nor prisoners and should be opposed.
As I wrote in September 2007 in the Socialist
“Socialists argue for a radical decrease in the prison population. Many people are locked up due to debt and poverty.
Moreover, sentences handed out by courts have crept up in length and the proportion sent to prison for more than 30 years, despite the crime rate going down over recent years.
To implement this reduction, socialists call for the democratic election of judges, subject to recall.
Moreover, we demand the release of all people imprisoned for fine defaults, ASBO defaults and other trivial offences, with democratically elected bodies to review all other cases.
Socialists do not necessarily oppose building new prisons. But we would argue that any new prisons need to be part of a plan to reduce the jail population, through replacing older prisons with newer ones, which held fewer prisoners but with more facilities and better conditions.
This would free up staff to reduce the prisoner-staff ratio, whilst providing better prison facilities. But these prisons should not be built and run by the private sector with their history of providing poorer quality prisons.
Moreover, socialists demand that privatised prisons are renationalised too.
Such a programme would reduce the overcrowding crisis in prisons. However, to tackle the problem of crime a socialist programme is needed that would give jobs and training for all on a living wage, with housing and other essentials of life under public ownership and control.
Prisons should be geared towards helping offenders overcome any problems such as not being able to read or write.”
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