Government inaction fuelling epidemic of violence in jails, warn prison officers

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Justice Secretary Liz Truss has been warned Government inaction is helping fuel an epidemic of violence in jails, as she meets leading prison officers.

The Prison Officers Association (POA) suspended an earlier instruction to members to hold meetings outside every establishment in England and Wales after Ms Truss agreed to urgent talks.

Instead, branch meetings to discuss safety issues inside prisons have been authorised.

POA vice chairman Ralph Valerio told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "Quite frankly, we are running out of time to save our Prison Service.

"Government inertia is a great cause of the violence epidemic that is sweeping our prison estate at this moment in time.

"Putting prison officers on to a landing isn't going to be the panacea to all ills. However, it will be a very positive step maintaining ... retaining, the health and safety of those in our care. And, of course, for the prison officers."

Negotiations will take place at a national level aiming to reach a new agreement later this month, the POA said.

It comes after official figures revealed levels of violence in prisons have reached a new high, with 65 assaults behind bars every day.

In the year to June, assaults on staff jumped by 43% to 5,954, with 697 recorded as serious.

Last month the chairman of the Parole Board warned that prison safety had deteriorated to its most serious level.

Professor Nick Hardwick, a former chief inspector of prisons, said: "I see no sign that the number of homicides, self-inflicted deaths, self-harm incidents and assaults will not continue to rise."

Ms Truss, who recently announced an additional £14 million for more than 400 extra staff in prisons that have seen sharp rises in violence, is set to unveil her strategy for prison reform. 

She told the Commons on Tuesday there is a "serious issue with violence and levels of suicide" as she stressed that addressing the situation is her top priority.