A high number of sex offenders jailed in Lewes prison makes the Victorian building ‘very hard to manage’, according to the town’s MP.
Officers from the prison held a demonstration in November last year against ‘drastic increases in prison violence’.
The East Sussex prison was put in lockdown in October after a violent incident.
During an opposition day motion in the House of Commons yesterday (Wednesday January 25), Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon raised concerns about recent disturbances in several prisons, recruitment shortfalls, and a rise in prison violence.
Lewes MP Maria Caulfield paid tribute to all prison officers in the country for doing a ‘fantastic, difficult and often dangerous job’ particularly those at HMP Lewes, which had been put into special measures just before Christmas.
But she expressed disappointment at Labour’s motion as it ‘fails to demonstrate an understanding of the issues facing prison officers day in, day out’, and explained that problems in Lewes were not just down to prison officer numbers as the huge rise in the number of sexual offenders made the old Victorian buildings ‘very hard to manage’.
She said: “Lewes prison is difficult to manage because its old buildings make it difficult to see what is going on, particularly with reduced staff numbers.
“It is also a depressing prison inside—there is hardly any lighting—which makes it a tough place not only for inmates, but for the prison officers who work there day in, day out.
“The inmates are changing. While there are the usual faces who keep coming through the revolving door, there are also now sexual offenders.
“That type of prisoner was never there ten or 15 years ago, so that has increased pressure on the prison officers and prisoners.”
Ms Caulfield added: “We absolutely have to deal with the way in which people enter prisons. I have talked to young people in Newhaven Foyer in my constituency, many of whom have come from the care sector.
“Many of them deliberately committed crime to get into prison, because they were not confident about getting housing or care, and many of their friends are in prison already. Until we address issues relating to life chances, the same people will be going through the prison system.
“I know that the Ministry of Justice is not working in isolation. It is working with the children’s minister, with the relevant health minister on mental health problems, and with the housing minister to deal with housing problems. That is why I am so disappointed with the opposition motion, which fails to tackle any of the factors that contribute to prisoner numbers and shows no understanding of them at all.”
Meanwhile Wealden MP Nus Ghani added: “Last year Anjem Choudary, an extremist preacher and vocal supporter of the death cult Daesh, was jailed for five and a half years. Like many, I was pleased that justice had been served, but I was also deeply concerned about what influence he might have over his fellow inmates while serving his sentence.
“The impact that radical inmates can have on other prisoners should not be underestimated. Prisons have always had gangs, and this death cult is just another gang on the prison block.
“I therefore firmly welcomed the measures introduced following the Acheson review—particularly the stronger vetting of prison chaplains and front-line staff, and the removal from the general prison population into specialist units of those spreading extreme, violent and corrosive views.
“I ask the minister to do all he can to ensure that, once contained in those specialist units, extremists are not able to collaborate and further propagate their dangerous ideologies. I have long asked for tighter vetting for so-called faith leaders, and for all sermons and services to be conducted in English.
“We hear of a reluctance among prison staff to challenge pernicious extremist views, particularly radical Islamic beliefs. Prisons must not be allowed to exist as breeding grounds for Wahhabism or Daesh, and it is vital that we continue to push for the appropriate training of prison staff in this area.
“I welcome the recruitment of more prison staff, but they must be properly equipped and deployed to combat extremism.”
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