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Union chief: Prisons are crumbling, violent and understaffed

The president of the Prison Governors Association will speak about the state of jails on Tuesday (Paul Faith/PA) Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

The president of the Prison Governors Association is to accuse the Government of failing to respond quickly enough to the jail safety crisis.

Andrea Albutt will claim “dis-investment” has contributed to the decline in standards that has hit much of the estate in England and Wales.

In a scathing critique, she will say: “A constant irritation of mine is that the Government do not have the humility to admit that they got their policy completely wrong this decade in our prisons.”

Addressing the PGA’s annual conference on Tuesday, Ms Albutt will paint a bleak picture of the state of jails, pointing to “horrendous” quarterly statistics on violence.

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She is expected to say: “We have crumbling prisons and an inability to give a safe, decent and secure regime to large numbers of men and women in our care due to lack of staff, not fit for purpose contracts and a much more violent, disrespectful, gang and drug affiliated population.”

Ms Albutt will acknowledge that she has “waxed lyrical” about austerity measures in prisons in recent years.

But she will insist “it cannot be ignored or dressed up in any other way, our prisons are in the state they are in due to dis-investment and a complete failure to react to the crisis in a timely manner by Government”, adding: “What this has reaped is the state we are in and the immense struggle we are facing in trying to pull ourselves out of the mire.”

Assaults in prisons Credit: PA Graphics

Hitting back at criticism levelled at prison leaders, she will tell the conference: “The majority of governors are the same people, competent, committed and brave.

“The only way our prisons will achieve sustained improvement is if there is a will in Government to fund us appropriately and that will only happen if they accept that their austerity strategy has been the catalyst for the current situation.

“Scapegoating leaders will not help and in fact could hinder.”

Ms Albutt will call for a “massive capital investment” in prison buildings and a reduction in the jail population.

She will also spring to the defence of Michael Spurr, who will leave his role as chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) in March.

Describing Mr Spurr as “dedicated and competent”, Ms Albutt will say: “The last thing we need is another change of direction. Without a doubt, lack of continuity this decade has contributed to instability in our prisons.”

She will, however, note that there is a “more positive feel” in jails after staffing levels were boosted and a high-level strategy around security and safety started to take effect.

“I believe the strategy HMPPS is currently embarking on is the right one and the green shoots of recovery, however small, are showing,” Ms Albutt will say.

The prisons system has been under intense scrutiny after levels of violence, self-harm and drug use behind bars surged.

Focus has intensified in recent weeks with the publication of a string of highly critical inspection reports.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Senior managers in prisons do vital work and we are grateful for their dedication and commitment.

“We acknowledge the ongoing challenges they face and, as the president notes, we have taken meaningful action to address them which is starting to yield results.

“This includes a £40 million investment to improve the estate and tackle drugs, the recruitment of an additional 3,500 officers, while we are putting £1 million into new training programmes to help senior managers further develop their leadership skills.”