Saturday, 22 July 2017

YOI Aylesbury: The Inside Story

Although it is common knowledge that our prison system is in deep crisis, the actual details of what is going on behind prison walls are often hidden from public view. Appalling events take place, but these stories are rarely told because of the suffocating blanket of official secrecy from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) that has come to envelop our jails like a thick mist. Transparency is a pipe dream.

HM YOI Aylesbury
Yesterday (Friday July 21) there was a serious incident of violence at HM YOI Aylesbury. We have learned this not by reading about it in the local or national newspapers or from seeing it on the television news, but only because reliable, professional sources inside the system have passed on the details to a private blogger who has an active interest in the prison crisis. That’s why the news was broken on my Twitter account this afternoon and why you are reading about the incident on this blog.

In a nutshell, a group of over 30 young inmates located on one wing became involved in a mass brawl yesterday morning. Rather than rewriting one of the accounts I’ve received, I’ll simply let the person (who has to remain anonymous for obvious reasons) tell the story for themselves, with their permission. This may be the only accurate account of this incident you’ll ever read, so it’s important the truth is told.

The incident yesterday was horrific. The wing has been brewing for a while. The worst, most difficult wing is being run by new officers. We are 30 staff down and now will be even more. 

The wing is over run with problems of gangs and gang violence. There has been a big rise in weapons and drugs in the jail. The governors were warned. The wing in question houses most gangs in the jail on one wing. 

A mass brawl broke out yesterday morning, calling on all officers available lots of times. We didn't have the staff. Prisoners were attacking each other with weapons – and staff. 

Staff were trying to save their lives and got battered. Some were seriously injured. Another officer was on the landing unconscious. We had ambulances and fire service in trying to help alongside our healthcare department. If anything had happened elsewhere in the jail we wouldn't have been able to cope. 

Aylesbury is at breaking point. Eleven officers had to go to hospital and others are injured. 

I'm so angry by what has happened to be honest! The government do nothing. The public should know what really happens! I have never seen anything as bad as this in the years that I have worked there. Members of staff are in danger.

I enjoy my job and enjoy working with the lads, but yesterday was different. They had no fear and they didn't care. The staff tried their best and they worked incredibly hard. They put their lives on the line to save the lads’ lives when they seemed to just want to kill each other! 

To be fair our number one governor is good and she's trying hard but she's battling against a broken system. We have so many new officers that work hard but they are so young and they just aren't getting the support from their seniors. Older members of staff are burnt out. 

We have prisoners who are over 22 stuck in the jail because we barely have any offender supervisors to do the work and no adult jails will take our lads. The wings are rife with spice, cannabis, steroids and weapons. 

And we have had a few near miss suicides recently, alongside a serious fight earlier in the year in which a brick was used to smash a lad’s skull in. I don't understand how the MOJ can sit there and justify what they do.

The staff try hard but what's three new staff on a wing of 70 lads mainly gang members? It's unsafe. I know staff are not eating and throwing up after work because they are so anxious to go to work.

I’m dreading going to work, having to try and help the people that have hurt my friends. What worries me now is some of the lads involved I would have put money on them being decent guys. They weren't the 'typical' disruptive prisoners.

So now the truth is out there. It can no longer be covered up by the bureaucrats and press officers down in at the MOJ in Petty France.
Wing inside HM YOI Aylesbury

No-one can say that the deteriorating security situation at YOI Aylesbury has come as a surprise.  In its most recent annual report for 2015-2016 published in January this year (see here), the YOI’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) states clearly that: “The current staffing level, significantly reduced over the last five years, has made the prison a more dangerous place for staff and prisoners. Additionally, due to the prominence of gangs across the establishment, the complexity of delivering programmes, education and training, coupled with difficulties in delivering prisoners to their activities, suggest staff levels need to be improved considerably if goals are to be met.”

There should be no attempt to sugar coat the bitter truth. What has just happened at YOI Aylesbury is an absolute disgrace. Eleven members of staff have been injured – two seriously enough to have been unconscious and taken to hospital – largely due to inadequate levels of staffing, including deployment of officers with insufficient experience to cope with the particular dangers of this establishment.

Rt Hon David Lidington
It is not enough for the MOJ to recite its usual mantra that ‘lessons will be learned’. Clearly they have not been and explicit warnings from the local IMB have been ignored. Ministers – particularly Sam Gyimah, the Prisons Minister, who has been in post since July 2016 – must accept responsibility for the Ministry’s appalling political decision-making over the past seven years.

Fortunately, this time, no-one has been killed at YOI Aylesbury. However, unless urgent action to address this ongoing crisis, sooner or later there will be the risk of loss of life, whether a prisoner or member of staff.

We also cannot allow the MOJ to lockdown information on serious incidents in our prison estate. Without freedom of information, there can be no genuine political or institutional accountability.

David Lidington, the new Secretary of State for Justice, needs to get a grip on the culture of silence and obstruction of the media within his department. In the meantime, he should visit Aylesbury in person as a matter of urgency and speak to both frontline staff and young prisoners in private to understand why this establishment is in deep crisis. Failure to act will be an abdication of his responsibility.