After writing about how the arts in prisons are under threat I spoke to a couple of people, prisoners and officers, about how prison funding is managed and prioritised. We didn’t all agree about how money should be spend, but we unanimously concluded that it wasn’t being spent right at the moment.
I saw one example of this in action at HMP Frankland where, the same year that it was decided to not supply condiments to prisoners, and to limit supplies of toilet roll too, they bought segways for staff to get around the prison and opened a new ‘aquatics centre’ for staff to use, just outside the front gate. This had to be planned, built, manned, and maintained, and they even got in the ex-manager of Sunderland football club to open it!
To be fair, it wasn’t clear whether it had been the prison service itself that funded this, or the Prison Officer’s Association (POA). But if it was the POA, I’d consider this even worse since, at about the same time, they had just claimed in the media that prison officers are in dire need of stab vests and pepper spray because they were all at risk. They even claimed that there were ‘no go zones’ in some prisons and that being a prison officer was ‘one of the most dangerous jobs in Britain’. Interestingly, it was pointed out on one particular radio show that more window cleaners die on duty each year than prison officers and, when asked to name a single prison with a no go zone, the POA spokesperson was unable to do it. These claims are wildly exaggerated. But if the POA truly believed them, then why would they waste money on building an aquatics centre when they could be buying their members these stab vests?
If the prison service funded this building then they need to get their priorities right and increase supplies of essentials such as toilet rolls. If it was the POA, then they need to substantiate their claims that they desperately need stab vests by funding their members for them. They shouldn’t have to do this, but if they’re not prepared to, then they don’t really need them. Truthfully, prisoners are far more at risk of violence than officers are. Still, they could always tape magazines to themselves for protection like some prisoners do.