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Prison officers strike called off at Kent prisons

By Amy Nickalls

Prison officers working across the county went on strike over concerns over their safety.

The general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) called on members in England and Wales to take protest action outside their workplaces from 7am this morning.

It was called off at 1pm.

It followed a letter to the secretary of state issuing an urgent notification notice at HMP Bedford following a catalogue of failures.

Prison officers on strike outside HM Prison Cookham Wood (4167353)
Prison officers on strike outside HM Prison Cookham Wood (4167353)

A rise in violence against staff in prisons has been blamed on the government and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service.

One woman, whose husband is in Rochester Prison, said he phoned this morning to say the place was on "lockdown" all day.

The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "It's not fair. People have visits and stuff today.

"It's unfair on prisoners if they can't contact people and let them know not to come in.

"They could be anywhere in the country."

POA general secretary Steve Gillan said: "The POA has engaged with the Employer and Ministers in an attempt to resolve issues, but they are paying lip service to the health and safety of my members, their human rights, that of other workers in prisons and of course the prisoners in our care.

“Earlier this year the POA commenced legal proceedings due to the Government’s failure to provide safe prisons.

HM Prison Rochester (4167355)
HM Prison Rochester (4167355)

"Bedford with other prisons was placed into Special Measures and commitments made to this union from Government and HMPPS. These commitments were not met and we have issued a further Pre-Action Protocol Letter as part of the Judicial Review process because of their failings to provide safe prisons.

“We will now be demanding that the Government provide safe prisons, meet our demands to improve Personal Protective Equipment, reduce levels of violence and overcrowding as set out by Lord Justice Woolf in his report into the riots of 1990.”

Prisons in Kent include Rochester, Cookham Wood, Maidstone, and Elmley, Swaleside and Standford Hill on the Isle of Sheppey.

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 unlawful 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 £40 million 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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