Steve Barclay MP raises concerns about overcrowding at HMP Whitemoor in March less than a week since protest

PUBLISHED: 15:14 18 September 2018

Steve Barclay MP (inset) has written to the prisons minister about overcrowding at Whitemoor. It comes less than a week after a protest about safety at the site. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

Steve Barclay MP (inset) has written to the prisons minister about overcrowding at Whitemoor. It comes less than a week after a protest about safety at the site. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

HARRY RUTTER

Concerns about “overcrowding” at HMP Whitemoor have been raised by Steve Barclay MP – less than a week after a protest about safety at the site.

Dozens of prison officers have gone on strike this morning at HMP Whitemoor in March. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.Dozens of prison officers have gone on strike this morning at HMP Whitemoor in March. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.

Concerns about “overcrowding” at HMP Whitemoor have been raised by Steve Barclay MP – less than a week after a protest about safety at the site.

The North East Cambs MP says he written to prisons minister Rory Stewart along with the governor of the top security prison in March.

It comes as it was reported in July that there was room for just 26 more prisoners.

Prison officers returning to work today at Whitemoor after protesting outside the jail since 7am over conditions/ PHOTO: Clare Butler Prison officers returning to work today at Whitemoor after protesting outside the jail since 7am over conditions/ PHOTO: Clare Butler

Last week, officers also protested outside the site over rising violence and staffing levels.

In a post on Facebook this morning, Mr Barclay MP said he had contacted prison officials.

He said: [The governor] tells me that Whitemoor has capacity for 458 men with each prisoner being allocated a single cell.

“This limit has never been exceeded at anytime during the governor’s two years of service.

“He states that Whitemoor is not overcrowded and that he does not feel pressured to accept more prisoners than they have capacity for.

“I have also written to the prisons minister for an update.

Niall McIntosh, branch chairman, and Colin Griffiths, branch secretary. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.Niall McIntosh, branch chairman, and Colin Griffiths, branch secretary. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.

“If constituents who work at the prison have specific information regarding any concerns, then let me know at stephen.barclay.mp@parliament.uk”

Just 18 prison officers were manning the site as scores protested at the base on Friday.

Those who downed tools for the morning expected, they said, to be docked half a day’s pay.

Officers at HMP Whitemoor in March are protesting over safety concerns. This document details what they want to chance. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.Officers at HMP Whitemoor in March are protesting over safety concerns. This document details what they want to chance. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.

The issue locally and nationally has been the rising level of attacks on prison staff, shortages of people to deal with the rising prison population and the amount of illegal substances being smuggled in.

Whitemoor officers say that in the last month, seven officers have been taken to hospital after being assaulted.

Prison Officers Association (POA) general secretary Steve Gillan had called for all members in England and Wales to take protest action outside their jails from 7am today “until instructed otherwise”.

Niall McIntosh, branch chair Whitemoor. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.Niall McIntosh, branch chair Whitemoor. Picture: HARRY RUTTER.

Colin Griffiths, branch secretary of POA at Whitemoor, said: “It is only a matter of time before someone gets killed.”

Niall McIntosh, branch chair of POA Whitemoor, described the situation as “beyond a joke”.

He said: “This protest is about the rise in violence in prisons and the safety of our staff.

Prison officers returning to work today at Whitemoor after protesting outside the jail since 7am over conditions/ PHOTO: Clare ButlerPrison officers returning to work today at Whitemoor after protesting outside the jail since 7am over conditions/ PHOTO: Clare Butler

“Around six or seven staff have been taken to hospital in recent weeks with minor assaults, but an assault is still an assault too many.

“Our staffing levels have dropped since 2010 and are now at dangerous levels.

“Our incidents are not as regular as in other prisons but they are still quite serious. It is just beyond a joke.

“We want to be heard because everyone has had enough now.

“We do not go to work to be a punching bag and see staff with stitches and wounds.”

However, the Ministry of Justice said it was “irresponsible” for the POA to encourage their members to take “illegal action.”

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “Prison officers do vital and important work and we urge them to return to their duty stations, in line with their obligations to the law and the prison service.

“It’s irresponsible for the POA to encourage their members to take this illegal action. We are deploying our contingency plans but, by not turning up for work, these prison officers are putting their fellow staff and inmates at risk.

“Yesterday we doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers. We’ve also increased pay, provided tools such as body-worn cameras to increase security on the landings, and are investing £40m to improve the estate and tackle the drugs problem which is fuelling much of the violence. And we’ve now got 3,500 new officers to help ease the burden.

“We are taking the action that needs to be taken.”

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