Staff Stage Walkout At "Dickensian" Prison Over Safety Concerns
Prison staff walked out on Friday morning after a spate of violent incidents, according to the prison officers' union.
Staff at a notorious London prison that was criticised for its "Dickensian squalor" have staged an unplanned walkout over safety concerns.
Workers at Wormwood Scrubs in west London refused to start their shifts on Friday morning after a spate of violent incidents in recent weeks. They are calling for a "full lockdown" search of prisoners' cells to discover and confiscate inmates' weapons, drugs, and mobile phones before they will return to work.
In a closed Facebook forum used by prison staff, one anonymous worker wrote: "Colleagues at Wormwood Scrubs withdrawing their labour due to H&S [health and safety] today.
"Violence, spice [a legal high] & assaults are all taking their toll on staff safety and enough is enough!"
In April, the prisons inspectorate found that 1 in 5 prisoners at Wormwood felt unsafe and 2 in 5 could easily obtain drugs. The trade of legal highs in the prison was linked to gang activity and some prisoners told inspectors that they feared leaving their cells.
The inspection report said assaults against staff were double the number inspectors had observed in similar prisons and that some were serious and involved weapons.
Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, told BuzzFeed News that staff feel things have got worse since that report and that the union "fully supports" the spontaneous walkout.
"The report highlighted some really disturbing issues such as the amount of phone and drugs and violence, and a lot of our members and indeed prisoners have been assaulted," he said.
"The health and safety of our members has been put in jeopardy because it would appear that NOMS [the National Offender Management Service] and government are doing nothing to address the problems at Wormwood Scrubs.
"Our members – as individuals – have chosen not to go into the jail this morning until certain conditions have been met and I don't think they're being unreasonable."
Gillan said that health and safety legislation allows for individual staff members to leave their place of work if they feel there is serious and imminent danger. "I feel there is serious and imminent danger," he said, "because our members are not punchbags."
The union hopes that talks can now take place between staff and the prisons service so there can be a resolution.
Lawyers were refused access to the prison as inmates were confined to their cells.
A prison service spokesperson said: "An incident is underway at HMP Wormwood Scrubs and we are taking steps to resolve it.
"As a temporary measure, all prisoners will remain in cells and are being supervised. There is no danger to staff or the wider public."