Jail rioting fear in wake of spending cuts

RIOTS such as those seen at a Yorkshire jail earlier this year and at an open prison on New Year's Day could become more common as a result of the Government's austerity measures, says the prison officers' leader.

Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said that future inmate uprisings were inevitable because of staff shortages and misguided attempts by the coalition Government to ease overcrowding.

His comments came after Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt promised that lessons would be learnt following an inmate rampage at Ford Open Prison near Arundel, West Sussex, on New Year's Day, which came just weeks severe disturbances at the Moorland young offenders institution, near Doncaster.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Gillan said that, because of pressures on the prison system, convicts were being kept in conditions which were not secure enough to ensure officer safety.

He added: "We are concerned about the number of assaults on prison officers.

"There will be more prison riots to come with these budget cuts. We are facing a real risk of other prisoners copycatting those sorts of riots."

The prison officers' leader threatened legal action to ensure that the safety of officers, inmates and the public was not put at risk by planned Government budget cuts.

He said: "We are nearly 1,000 prison staff short and we are now looking at making prison staff redundant.

"Because of overcrowding we are getting the wrong sort of prisoners being put in open conditions. They are not ready for it and the regimes are not ready for them. It's being done to ease the pressure in other parts of the service."

Mr Gillan continued: "If our members' health and safety are at risk we will protect them. We will not rule anything out. We are actively looking at what we can do under health and safety legislation... to ensure that the Government is complying."

Mr Blunt visited Ford Open Prison yesterday to survey the damage after rampaging inmates took control, torched buildings and smashed windows.

It is thought the rebellion started after guards attempted to breathalyse prisoners for contraband alcohol in the early hours of New Year's Day.

A Prison Service inquiry has been launched that will examine what sparked the violence and whether insufficient staffing levels were to blame. Police have also launched an investigation.

During the early stages of the rebellion, only two officers and four support staff were on duty, at a centre which holds around 500 inmates.

Mr Blunt said: "We must learn the lessons to make sure it does not recur."

Bosses at the Moorland young offenders institution said shortly after the riots in November that they "might never know" what prompted dozens of rampaging inmates to stage three nights of violence at the prison.

Three prison officers and two prisoners were left injured after the trouble earlier this month, which spread from the young offenders' unit to an adult wing and forced bosses to move more than 250 inmates to other jails.

Yorkshire's director of offender management, Steve Wagstaffe, said the first night of rioting broke out after a prison officer was injured while trying to stop a fight.

He added: "Moorland takes life sentence young offenders from all over the country.

"It seems that just one spark when you have got the right conditions is enough to cause trouble."

Two of the prison's five houseblocks remained closed over Christmas and it is thought no inmates will return until later this year.