In 1990, New York was the most unsafe city in the world. The rank and file within the police force was depleted, underfunded and under-resourced, and facing levels of criminality it was incapable of dealing with; morale was at an all-time low. This, of course, will sound only too familiar to POA members in our out-of-control workplaces.

An idea that would revolutionise law enforcement in 1990 was born after Police Commissioner William Bratton decided to take back control. He was buoyed by an historical article in The Atlantic magazine in 1982 with this famous summary: “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighbourhoods as in rundown ones.” Bratton began putting that theory into practice as the chief of New York City’s transit police from 1990 to 1992.

The implication was that if minor crimes were ignored then more serious crimes would grow. This should resonate with every POA member in every workplace. It’s time for our own ‘broken windows’ moment.

It’s time for POA members to demand action from reluctant managers. It’s time for POA members to refuse to accept antisocial behaviour, abuse and violence in their workplaces. It’s time for managers to buy into this theory and back their staff. It’s time for us all to get back to basics before it’s too late.

When I talk about ‘basics’ it has many connotations. It starts with staff being proud of the uniform they wear and the service they give. Staff turning up for work looking smart, well ordered and professional and instilling into the people they look after the standards by which they themselves abide. No more accepting threats, abuse and foul language. No more accepting dirty, grubby cells or dilapidated work surroundings, and definitely no more accepting excuses from weak managers who think appeasement will maintain order, because nothing could be further from the truth.

We need to start the fightback ourselves, because it is clear that senior leaders refuse to accept what we all learned from restrictions brought in during the pandemic. Smaller unlock numbers with more staff availability increases safety, reduces violence and self-harm, and leads to positive staff-prisoner relationships. Uncontrolled mass unlock with depleted staffing levels leads to chaos and a loss of control and confidence.

Our own broken windows moment should focus on sanctions for every minor misdemeanour, a fit-for-purpose adjudication process in which staff have confidence and a demand that every assault, whether it causes injury or not, is reported as a crime.

The line needs to be drawn and we need to take back control of our prisons. Expecting one member of staff to supervise 60 prisoners should never happen and we must ensure it never does. We should never work alone because the risk is too great.

If that means we conduct AFC checks in pairs and unlock a landing together then that is what we must do. In the absence of support from our so-called leaders, the onus is on us. Never be afraid to work safely. You will always be supported by your union.

All too often, staff are forced and feel under pressure to ‘cut corners’ to facilitate regimes. Cutting corners leads to security lapses and breaches. When that happens, the first thing that will get thrown at staff is ‘policy and procedures’.

It is very hard to defend yourself when policy has not been adhered to because you are under pressure to facilitate regimes.

It’s much harder to be accused of something if you adhere to Risk Assessments, Safe Systems of Work, Local Security Frameworks and Prison Service Instructions. When ‘the book’ gets thrown at you it hurts, so start to throw the book back at those people who are heaping pressure on you to ignore safe, policy-compliant working practices.

It’s time for you to take back control of your workplaces.

It is vitally important for all members to ensure they abide religiously to ACCT procedures. I am sure many staff supervising prisoners on ACCT are unaware of what the policy document actually stipulates. I am positive that many staff supervising constant watches are unaware that policy demands they are given a break during their supervision period, ensuring frequent rotations of staff, and an emergency access plan must be in place if they have to intervene. I would encourage all POA members to read, understand, adhere to and demand their rights as per policy.

Stop putting yourselves at risk and adhere to policies and procedures.

I don’t want to hear about more POA members being arrested and charged over deaths in custody. It is at times like that you begin to realise how important it is to be a POA member.

The recent escape from Wandsworth is a timely reminder of how vulnerable we are and how important our role is. The fact that this government continues to fail us all is potently highlighted in its much-heralded early release scheme that will inevitably see recalls and crime rates soar.

It failed to listen to projections relating to the increase in prison populations, closed too many public sector prisons, failed to provide enough spaces and now finds itself trying to crawl out of a crater that it dug itself.

It’s a shameful way to run a prison service, a despicable way to treat staff and it’s unacceptable that it thinks it can get away with such mismanagement. The only hope we have is that future governments actually listen to the real experts within the public sector – the staff and the unions that represent them. Only then will our public bodies improve. You cannot run justice on the cheap.

Our colleagues in secure psychiatric hospitals continue to experience the lack of investment such services suffer from within the NHS. Facing the same staffing issues as prisons, POA members in secure psychiatric settings continue to burn themselves out by working excessive hours to plug gaps, face increasingly serious levels of violence and are subject to petty investigations from vindictive senior managers.

If the next government does not heavily invest in mental health services within our communities, we will witness an exodus of staff from our special hospitals and an increase in people entering custody who need to be in medium secure mental hospitals. The lack of training for prison staff to deal with acute mental health patients within our prisons and the unfair pressure on POA members working within secure psychiatric settings is a national scandal that never ever gets publicised.

As the year draws to a close, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all POA members for the sterling work they do on behalf of society, often hidden behind a big, grey wall. Wherever you work and whatever your role, you make me so proud every day to represent you.

It has been another difficult year dealing with increased levels of violence, self-harm and suicides, without sufficient staffing levels in place and a lack of empathy from senior leaders. Please do not suffer in silence if you find yourself struggling. If you need help, ask for it.

I wish each and every one of you a peaceful Christmas and a happy new year.

Until next time, take care of each other and all the best.


Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.