I just saw an interview on TV with Steve Gillan of the Prison Officers’ Association which I am really struggling to comprehend.
The piece was primarily about the reported rise in attacks on staff by prisoners. Now I do want to make it clear that I don’t support such attacks, but nor do I believe that they have risen as much as has been claimed by the POA. Even the journalist interviewing Gillan suggested that some of the rise could be put down to overstretched, under-supported, and extremely stressed prison officers antagonising similarly stressed prisoners. Of course, Gillan said that his members would never do such a thing, and that they behaved professionally at all times (which must be why so many of them get sacked and, in some cases, even locked up each year).
But I can tell you from personal experience, I have NEVER assaulted a member of staff. In fact I have myself been assaulted by five different prison officers over the years and yet I have even stepped in when certain members of staff were being attacked or otherwise abused on a number of occasions. And this is the first aspect of common sense that fails to apply in such situations. It was some years ago when a prisoner was shouting at and threatening a teacher in the prison education department that I defended her and, when the lad swung for me, ended up fighting to protect both her and myself. Consequently, I was put on report and faced an adjudication for fighting (which I was found guilty of and which remains on my report and is brought up whenever I apply for parole) but I was also given a ten pound pay bonus for defending the teacher from attack! Now I didn’t do it for that, I did it because I thought the lad was out of order and owed her an apology. But where is the common sense in finding someone guilty of fighting and then giving him a pay bonus for doing so?!
But back to the interview with Gillan. I’ve said before that I like to listen to the little turns of phrase that give away a person’s true agenda or even the flaws in their argument. Gillan’s was a classic. He said that, if you wanted to see how bad it is in prison, you need only look at the prisoner on prisoner attacks which are now at around 15,000 in a year and that prison officers “are bearing the brunt of that with 3,400 attacks on them in the past year.” Hmmm. My understanding of bearing the brunt is that it means getting the worst of or taking the most of. Well if there are 15,000 prisoner on prisoner attacks, and 3,400 prisoner on staff attacks, on what level are prison officers bearing the brunt?
Come on, Gillan. A little bit of common sense would say that it is prisoners who bear the brunt of violence in jail. The only reason the POA doesn’t say so is because they seem to believe that, if you’re in prison, you deserve it. It’s the very same reason why they routinely report how many prisoner on prisoner and prisoner on staff attacks there are, but never make much noise about the number of staff on prisoner attacks.
But there is another reason for that too. Professional members of staff don’t tend to attack prisoners. But unprofessional ones, the ones that do occasionally hit out unnecessarily, have no problem with lying about it. Invariably they say that the prisoner was being aggressive and threatening and that they acted to defend themselves. I have personally seen twelve officers, some of which were built like professional rugby players, hold a prisoner down and stamp all over him. In the days that followed, the CCTV went missing, the officers submitted statements which were very obviously a product of collusion, and the prisoner himself was placed on report for assault. The prisoner tried to report this to the police, but prison rules state that a crime committed within a prison is only a crime if the governor sees it as such. The governor at the time didn’t. The prisoner was not allowed to even see the police.
So yes, I agree that sentences should be firm in order to deter prisoners from attacking members of staff. But I also think something needs to be done about the number of staff on prisoner attacks too.