Prison officer claims HMP Northumberland is a 'powder keg waiting to explode'

Worried prison officer claims prison bosses are failing to address critical problems at HMP Northumberland

HMP Northumberland
HMP Northumberland

A North East jail hit by major staffing cuts is a “powder keg waiting to explode” a prison officer today told the Journal.

The HMP Northumberland worker claims many of his colleagues fear for their safety, claiming the situation is now “out of control”.

It comes just days after probation officers told how they were fearful of paying visits to the jail where officer numbers have been cut by more than a third.

The prison officer, who asked not to be named said: “It will just take the smallest thing to kick everything off there.

“The management are not listening, they’re more worried about profit than our safety.

“Things are now out of control and something needs to be done.”

The guard says that during the past year, he has been faced with roof-top protests, a riot, continued fear of violence and a declining relationship between officers and inmates.

The inside of HMP Northumberland
The inside of HMP Northumberland

He added: “We have been told by the inmates themselves there will be another riot and I’m worried someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed.

“It’s not just the staff who are saying they’ve never seen it worse, it’s the prisoners themselves.”

The officer claims the lack of work for inmates has left many of them sitting in their cells for up to 22 hours a day.

He said: “Inside a closed environment like this, one prisoner’s frustration can manifest itself onto everyone else.

“The prisoners are asking for transfers because they want to work but haven’t got the choice here.”

The officer also claimed the lack of support from the prison management was causing further concern.

He added: “In the past the prisoners and prison officers here have always had a good relationship but that’s all changed now.

“We feel we’re not being listened to when we highlight the concerns we have. It’s all about money now and not staff welfare.”

It has been revealed how staff numbers at HMP Northumberland, a Category C jail, fell from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013 - a drop of 39%.

Sodexo, a private firm, took over the running of the jail in December 2013, after HMP Acklington and HMP Castington merged two years earlier.

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesperson said: “Staffing levels for prison visits have remained unchanged since Sodexo took over the contract and the number of prisoners attending daily appointments has improved.

“We monitor incidents in the prison very closely, and there is no evidence of any change in levels of violent behaviour. All incidents of violence are reported to the National Offender Management Service.

“We review staffing levels at all our prisons on a regular basis and will continue to monitor them at HMP Northumberland.

“Safety and security of prisoners, staff and visitors is always a priority for Sodexo Justice Services, as independent reports in each of our prisons by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons demonstrate.

“Our other four UK prisons achieved distinctions in last year’s International Safety Awards, held by the British Safety Council, for our commitment to safety, which is so crucial to our business.”

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith

Sir Alan Beith, Lib Dem MP for Berwick, reiterated today how he was aware of the concerns surrounding the prison and was pressing for the matter to be addressed.

He said: “I have raised with ministers on several occasions my concerns that the staffing levels at HMP Northumberland may not be adequate to maintain a safe prison and achieve effective resettlement, and I will continue to raise these concerns.”


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