It seems only yesterday that TheOpinionSite.org reported that the police have been complaining about their pay cuts. Now it seems that prison officers are jumping on the same bandwagon, albeit they are doing it in a slightly different and rather unconvincing way.
Tony Blair’s government decided early on in their administration that they would try to privatise as much of the prison service as possible.
Needless to say, that proposal was met with fierce hostility from prison officers and prison governors alike who complained bitterly that in the event that prisons are managed by the private sector, pay scales would be significantly reduced along with pension and retirement payoffs.
This of course was entirely foreseen by Blair’s government and the policy was put forward in the first place as an attempt to try and save money in a service that costs the taxpayer £3,000,000,000 a year.
The Prison Officers Association have decided to take what they claim to be a ‘moral’ stance in the argument with the Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke.
One must bear in mind however that when prison officers start talking about morality there is bound to be a certain amount of deception involved. Sad to say, it is not in the nature of a prison officer to be gifted with an understanding of morality.
Their argument is that it is wrong for private companies to make a profit from the incarceration of citizens. This highly unlikely point of view is being put forward only shortly after prison governors have complained that as a result of Mr Clarke’s reforms prisons may close and jobs may be lost. In that argument at least the ‘moral’ point of view did not surface at all and the sole concern of those involved was whether or not they would keep their jobs.
It is therefore hard for anyone to seriously believe that prison officers or for that matter prison governors are remotely interested in the ‘morality’ of locking up an ever increasing proportion of the population; well, not in any meaningful sense anyway.
TheOpinionSite.org feels that it is necessary to point out that this is really about the difference in pay between ‘custody officers’, who are employed in private jails and ‘prison officers’ – the so called ‘professionals’ – who are employed in the state sector prisons, are responsible for producing life changing reports on prisoners whilst not actually being able to spell or articulate themselves to any great extent.
It is indeed a very sad state of affairs when the Prison Service has to offer remedial reading and writing not only to inmates but to landing officers as well.
The differential between the pay scales of private and public custodians can be as much a 50%, which is hardly surprising when one considers that in the public-sector prisons it doesn’t really matter whether or not you waste money whereas in the private sector prisons, any waste of money or resources affects the bottom line of the company.
The Prison Service has wasted billions of pounds over the years and has never been forced to do anything else until now. One must not forget either that Ken Clarke was once Home Secretary and so is by no means new to the prospect of a conflict with whinging prison officers.
Nobody is pretending however that privately run prisons are necessarily a good thing, not least because the level of staffing is significantly lower than that in public-sector prisons and the level of violence, drug taking and illegal activity is considerably higher in private prisons than in the public-sector counterparts.
A prime example is HMP Rye Hill which had one of the highest rates in the country of mortality and drug use amongst prisoners and which frequently had only two ‘custody officers’ on a wing with 80 prisoners.
It is a statistically recorded fact (src: HM Inspector of Prisons) that there is more violence in privately run prisons than there is in publicly run prisons which is no benefit to either the inmates or the public on whose behalf these institutions are run.
Mr Clarke maintains that the great benefit of having prisons run by the private sector is that to some extent at least they will be paid by results. That is, they are expected to reduce re-offending rates by 5% in order to maintain the terms of their contract.
Quite how this 5% is going to be calculated however is another matter as it could easily be argued that in fact it is not the Prison Service that is responsible for rehabilitation but the Probation Service.
It is certainly true that resources in custody are so limited that the chance of successfully rehabilitating a prisoner who is convicted of a very serious offense, as opposed to shoplifting, is very low. Furthermore, the Probation Service would argue, with some degree of accuracy, that rehabilitation really takes place in the community and that clearly, by definition that is not possible behind a prison wall.
TheOpinionSite.org believes that what this is really all about is simply saving money. It may also be an attempt to bring prison officers and their outdated modus operandi into the 21st century instead of allowing them to remain in the 19th century where they have been until very recently.
Nor is this a new idea as successive governments have been promising some degree of privatization of the Prison Service in one form or another for over 30 years.
The difference this time is that economic circumstances dictate that prison officers will lose any battle against the government and therefore that a little progress may be made, albeit in very small steps.
The Prison Officers Association have threatened industrial action and even the possibility of a strike.
This is frankly a stupid idea as the last time they attempted it all the government had to do was to go off to a High Court judge, get an injunction and the prison officers were given the choice of either going back to work or permanently losing their jobs.
Mr Clarke has also taken the precaution of putting the army on standby, along with specially trained police officers in order that in the event of industrial action by prison officers, the prisons can continue to be run more or less normally.
Prison officers must therefore surely realise that taking on the government is one thing but taking on both the police and the army together is quite another.
In short, TheOpinionSite.org believes that the prison offices have no chance of winning this particular fight.
It is also quite ridiculous for them to complain about their working conditions, their ‘long hours’ and their ‘low’ pay.
According to the ex-prisoners that we have spoken to, together with a couple of prison governors, prison officers actually do very little work indeed and seem to spend most of their time sitting in an office drinking tea while most of the inmates are locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.
Even if this wasn’t true, there would still be little public support for any action by prison officers because whether they like it or not, prison officers are regarded by the public as getting paid rather a lot for doing very little.
TheOpinionSite.org believes therefore that it would be unwise in the extreme for prison officers to pick a fight with this particular Secretary of State as he is very experienced, very resilient and is unlikely to give way in any shape or form.
That ultimately will be good for prisons, good for prisoners and quite possibly, if the re offending rates really do come down, good for the country.