I have noted with growing frustration and incredulity the ongoing media coverage of the March 29 protest at HMP Northumberland.
Who are we to believe, a handful of disaffected prison officers (and their families), their union representatives (who fought tooth and nail against privatisation, often to the detriment of their members) and now, it seems, even some prisoners, all telling us that not only was this incident a full-scale riot but also that there has been a full-scale official cover-up as well?
It is easy to allege cover-ups, because they are very difficult to disprove, but just consider for a moment who and what would be involved in one here. Not just the new management, Sodexo, but also Ministry of Justice officials, who operate within the prison mainly to ensure that management runs it properly.
They were present during the protest and were key members of the subsequent investigation team that concluded that the incident was minor and had no far-reaching implications for the running of the prison.
I believe Coun Castle to be absolutely correct in his presentation of these facts and would stress that I am in a position to be quite certain of these assertions.
There were at most seven prisoners who reacted adversely to changes in routine imposed by management.
The whole wing was closed down immediately as a precaution against further trouble and damage was minimal.
The stand-by intervention team was not even deployed and professional staff dealt with the protest quickly and efficiently.
In answer to the statement by a prisoner that he would never risk a further 10 years added to his sentence without good reason, one is entitled to respond that if he thought like that then he would not be serving a sentence in the first place!
Inevitably, many officers and prisoners do not like regime change and unions, in particular, hate it. But, for better or worse, we now have a private company running the prison and the way forward is to let them get on with it, work with them constructively and stop trying to score political points by distorting incidents that one can expect when changes are imposed on an institution like a prison.
As it happens, Sodexo have a very good track record elsewhere, and, who knows, if they are properly supported instead of being denigrated, they might end up being good for Northumberland, given half a chance.
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