Richard Burgon writes:
It’s no secret that prisons are in crisis.
Serious trouble in Liz Truss’s prisons has become a regular feature in the news.
Violence, drugs and overcrowding are all too commonplace.
Self-harm and assaults on prison staff are at record levels.
That’s why today Labour has forced a debate in Parliament.
Prison officers have a tough job. No-one should go to work fearing getting punched in the face or spat at.
But this is the reality that our cut-back prison staff are facing day in, day out.
The Tories’ obsession with cutting necessary funds from public services has created this toxic situation.
Since 2010, they’ve cut prison officers by nearly 7,000 – more than one quarter of the total.
I speak to prison officers regularly. They feel less safe and more stressed than ever before.
But despite this, they also care.
They care about their fellow professionals and they care about the prisoners.
They want to be able to instil discipline – particularly in relation to young offenders.
And they want to help people to have turned away from crime by the time they are released.
Prison officers care about keeping our society safe. But now there just aren’t enough prison officers.
Prison officers tell me that they need to be able to speak to prisoners each day to find out where there might be problems with individuals, drugs and violence.
If they can’t do that then prisons become more dangerous and inevitably eventually the public are put at greater risk.
Labour knows there’s no ‘magic fix’. Prison staff and academic experts are right that it could take years.
But the truth is we don’t have that time.
Officers are leaving quicker than they can be recruited.
As things stand, the Government’s headline-grabbing commitment to boosting prison officer numbers is just pie-in-the-sky.
Prisons have never been perfect.
But under Labour, prison violence and re-offending was at much lower levels and prisons were better staffed.
In Parliament today, the Government needs to take responsibility and admit its mistakes.
What the Tories have done to our prison service is nothing short of criminal.