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Prison officers return to work after protest against violence in jails

LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of British prison officers returned to their jobs on Friday, after staging a six-hour walkout to protest against rising levels of violence in jails.
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The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) union wants the government to issue better personal protection equipment to its 28,000 members and reduce levels of violence and overcrowding in jails.

Prison officers had demonstrated outside jails across England and Wales early on Friday morning, defying government demands to return to work.

But meetings with UK Prisons Minister Rory Stewart had subsequently led to assurances on the POA’s concerns, a union spokesman said.

The state of prisons in Britain has made headlines in recent months. Inspectors warned on Thursday that inmates of Bedford jail in central England did not follow rules and were using drugs. Last month, the government took over the running of another prison for similar reasons.

Official figures published in July showed that assaults on staff jumped 26 percent in the year to March 2018 to 9,003 incidents, although a change in how issues were recorded may have contributed to the rise.

“The violence has been brought by a reduction in staffing levels,” said Blessing Uwede, POA representative, at Wormwood Scrubs jail in west London, where about 35 staff had walked out.

The government says it is working to address POA concerns.

“Yesterday we doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers,” a Ministry of Justice statement said. “We’ve also increased pay, provided tools such as body-worn cameras to increase security on the landings, and are investing 40 million pounds ($52 million) to improve the estate and tackle the drugs problem which is fuelling much of the violence.

There were now also 3,500 new prison officers to help ease the burden, it added.

Reporting by Sarah Young, additional reporting by Hannah McKay; editing by Stephen Addison

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