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Prisons Lidington ignores overcrowding and staff shortages in ‘shockingly complacent’ prison speech

A SPEECH on prison reform by Justice Secretary David Lidington yesterday was branded “shockingly complacent” by Labour for failing to address overcrowding and staff shortages.

Mr Lidington focused on smuggling gangs in prisons who take advantage of a “captive market” by selling drugs and tiny mobile phones.

He said gangs are delivering and dispatching contraband on a commercial scale, often using new technologies such as drones.

In his speech, given in central London, Mr Lidington called on online retailers to stop selling miniature mobile phones, which are smaller than a cigarette lighter.

His Labour shadow Richard Burgon pointed out that Mr Lidington had failed to mention any plans to rectify the government’s cost-cutting measures, which have led to short-staffing.

He warned that, without more prison officers, jails will “move beyond crisis to a full-blown emergency.”

Mr Burgon added: “One in four prisons has seen a fall in officer numbers over the last year, including those housing the most dangerous prisoners and those prisons that the government itself labels as being of concern. 

“Yet the Secretary of State failed to guarantee that those prisons would see any increase in officer numbers. Nor did he set out a vision for tackling widespread prison overcrowding. 

“When understaffing and overcrowding mean prisoners spend 23 hours a day locked up in their cells, this makes a mockery of the government’s claims that it’s turning prisons into places of reform.”

Prisoner officers’ union POA welcomed the idea of outlawing miniature mobile phones, but stressed that its other concerns should be taken seriously.

The union wants funding to allow every staff member and visitor to be searched every time they enter a prison, and for technology to block phone and drone signals to be immediately implemented.

National chair Mark Fairhurst also told the Star: “The game-changer over the last five years has little to do with the influx of psychoactive substances but has everything to do with the cull in staffing levels in the name of austerity.

“Too many of our members face violence and threats due to inadequate staffing levels.

“Until we replace the 7,000 operational staff and recognise that prison officers are front-line public servants by reinstating their retirement age of 60, there will be a constant wave of officers resigning to seek better paid and safer employment.”

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