Politicians are to blame for prison crisis | Letters

It’s unfair to blame the prisons chief, says Paul A Newman, and Phil Taylor points the finger at austerity

Placing Michael Spurr on notice of dismissal (‘Exemplary’ prisons chief told to quit amid jail crisis, 21 September) smacks of spite unprecedented since Michael Howard’s sacking of a progressive, humanitarian governor Richard Marriot and harrying of the then HMP director general Derek Rayner in the 90s but with this difference. Spurr’s laudable leadership is thwarted by a decade of top-slicing of Ministry of Justice budgets, with staff reductions and contraction of prisoner regimes, leading to negative inspectorate and independent monitoring board reports and “concerted acts of indiscipline”, culminating in the Prison Officers Association’s public act of desperation last week.

The vacuous denunciation of this by the justice secretary, David Gauke, as “irresponsible” concealed a deeper vexation: the appalling legacy of the Grayling years of insouciance. The failure and shame rest not with Spurr but with the legacy of a previous justice secretary.
Rev Paul A Newman
HMP Chaplaincy Service, 1991-2013

• I have listened and read the prolonged debate about our prisons and the crisis that is in full flow. The MoJ has to bring about a sea change in our custodial system. My concern is that there is no political appetite to do the right thing.

Ask professionals, academics and others who know, and the solution to the crisis is to seriously reduce the prison population or properly resource the existing system.

The decline in conditions began with the implementation of the governments austerity agenda in 2013, and statistics support this assertion. Our politicians are the masters of this disaster, and they have squandered a generation of progress.

Accept this and be courageous in your actions, rather than tinkering around the edges of policy. For justice to prevail, good people must act. Do this, and we can begin to rebuild a custodial system that can once again be envied around the world.
Phil Taylor
Former governor, HMP Wormwood Scrubs

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