Violence leaves prison staff in fear

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Entrance to Walton Jail © Trinity Mirror

Fearful for his safety, demotivated and overwhelmed. Welcome to life as a prison officer in Walton Jail.

In an exclusive interview with JMU Journalism, a highly-experienced serving officer has painted a damning picture of life inside HMP Liverpool for the prison staff.

“Morale is rock-bottom,” he said. “Like typical Scousers, we put a brave face on but deep-down it’s abysmal.”

The officer, who asked not to be named, said he felt feel isolated, vulnerable and unsupported by management inside the prison’s walls.

Low staffing levels are the main concern, as he believes personal safety is compromised when staff try and go about their daily duties.

In March this year, 30 prisoners were moved to other prisons after three staff were assaulted in the same day. In the space of just a few weeks, a total of 13 officers were attacked by the prison’s inmates.

On one weekend in August this year, an officer was seriously assaulted by a prisoner who had been led to a safe room for
his own protection. He is still unable to return to work due to the extent of his injuries.

In November 2009, staff walked out due to concerns for their safety and the officer feels industrial action appears inevitable unless there is some improvement in working conditions.

“Years ago, there were four staff per landing; now you’re lucky to get two for unlocking and feeding.

“It’s something that the staff don’t want to do [walk-out] but it’s becoming more and more likely because of the cutbacks and the lack of response by the government and the management in the prison to safeguard the health and safety of the staff.

Prisoners at Walton Jail © Trinity Mirror

“During the weekend when staffing levels are at a minimum, the staff cannot control the number of prisoners that are let out,” said the officer, who revealed that inmates regularly taunt the officers about the lack of numbers in their ranks.

He says this is not only intimidating, but adds to the pressure he already feels under.

Glyn Travis, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “The POA is extremely concerned at the level of violence in our prisons. It is clear that staff have lost confidence in the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], and the judiciary. This is resulting in morale being at an all-time low acrsoss the prison estate.

“Staff are fearful for their safety, with concerns being raised as the festive season nears.”

HMP Liverpool is a Category B/C prison, housing up to 1,200 prisoners. It was built in 1855 and has eight wings.

A report in February 2010 from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons found bullying, drugs and violence were common inside the jail.

JMU Journalism contacted the Home Office to discuss the officer’s concerns but they declined to comment.


About Liam Deveney, JMU Journalism