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UPDATED: Prison officers up and down the country – including here on the Isle of Wight – have walked out in protest of the ‘unprecedented’ levels of violence in prisons.

The action began at 07:00 this morning (Friday) and is expected to continue until members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) are instructed otherwise.

Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association has said:

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“We are coming out in protest to bring attention, under health and safety legislation, to the Government, to the general public, about conditions in our prisons for both prisoners and my members, of the rise in violence, the rise in drugs, the self-harm and everything that goes with it.

“The POA has engaged with the employer and ministers in an attempt to resolve issues but they are playing lip service to the health and safety of my members, their human rights, that of other workers in prisons and of course, prisoners in our care”.

The protest has mainly been brought about due to the conditions facing Prison staff at HMP Bedford.

UPDATE – Around 100 prison officers and other staff have walked out in protest today.

The action means that both Albany and Parkhurst are running on reduced staff numbers, although prisoners will still receive food and healthcare during the action.

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Meanwhile local businessman Darren Street has shown solidarity for the prison offices by delivering food to the ‘picket line’.

Dougie Graham, Governor at HMP Isle of Wight has wrote to all staff instructing them to return to work. He has stated that the industrial action is unlawful and is a breach of the employment contract.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has 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 illegal 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 (Thursday) 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 £40m 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.”

UPDATE @ 14:29 – Staff have now returned to work under direction from the Prison Officers’ Association.

Those who have taken part in the industrial action today are expected to be docked half a day’s pay.

In a statement issued this afternoon, the union said:

“Following meaningful engagement with minister Rory Stewart and a commitment to instruct the employer to meet the POA and agree a plan of action to address the concerns of the union, the POA has instructed members to return to work.

“The threat of court action against the union has been withdrawn and the union has stated they will engage with the employer to agree a timebound plan of action.”

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