Lewes Prison officers walk out in safety protest

Staff holding a protest outside of Lewes Prison. Photo by Eddie Mitchell
Staff holding a protest outside of Lewes Prison. Photo by Eddie Mitchell
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Officers from Lewes Prison are holding a demonstration today (Tuesday) as part of a national protest against 'drastic increases in prison violence'.

Staff walked out of the prison this morning as part of a national protest organised by the Prison Officers Association (POA) after talks with the Government over health and safety concerns broke down.

Lewes Prison

Lewes Prison

A spokesman for the union said:"[The walkout] is due to the unsafe working conditions our members are forced to endure, the action outlined in circular 97/2016 will continue until such time as the Secretary of State enforces safe regimes agreed with POA Committees and leading members within every working environment.Further the Secretary of State will meet with the POA NEC and agree a way forward to recruit and retain staff as well as agree other outcomes deemed necessary to keep our members safe”.

Speaking in Parliament today, Justice Secretary Liz Truss condemned the protest. She said: "Prison officers do a tough and difficult job and I've been clear that we need to make our prisons safer and more secure. I've announced an extra 2,500 officers who will be recruited to strengthen the front line. We're already putting in place new measures to tackle the use of dangerous psychoactive drugs and improve security across the estate.

"I met the Prison Officers Association on November 2 and over the last two weeks my team has been holding talks with the POA on a range of measures to improve safety. These talks were sue to continue this morning, instead the POA failed to respond our proposals and called this unlawful action without notice. The chief executive of NOMs (National Offender Management Service) Michael Spur spoke to the POA chairman Mike Rolf this morning reiterating our desire to continue talks today.That offer was refused.

"The union's position is unnecessary and unlawful and will make it will make the situation on our prisons more dangerous. We are taking the necessary legal steps to end this unlawful industrial action.

"The Government is absolutely committed to giving prison officers and governors the support they need to do their job and keep them safe from harm. In addition to recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers, we are rolling out body worn cameras across the estate and we have launched a £3m major crime task force to crackdown on gangs and organised crime. In September we rolled out new tests for dangerous psychoactive substances and have trained 300 dogs to detect these new drugs. We've setup a daily rapid response unit, led by the prisons minister, to make sure governors and staff have all the support they need.

"Taken together these measures will have a real and swift impact on the security and stability of prisons, while we recruit additional frontline staff."

Last month Lewes Prison was put on lockdown after a violent incident on a wing. Described as a riot by the POA, the union reported that staff were forced to retreat from the wing due to a "severe shortage of staff." The incident, which took place on Saturday, October 29, saw three arrests.

A 27-year-old man is being investigated on suspicion of arson with intent, attempted criminal damage, violent disorder and participating in a prison mutiny.

A second 27-year-old man is being investigated on suspicion of arson with intent, violent disorder and participating in a prison mutiny. A third man, aged 24-years-old, is being investigated on suspicion of criminal damage, violent disorder and participating in a prison mutiny.

All three have been bailed to Monday 12 December while enquiries continue.

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