Jail staff fear ‘powder-keg’ Addiewell prison is ‘about to blow’
Jail chiefs have deployed a special team to privately-run Addiewell Prison amid staff claims that ‘bullying and mismanagement’ is putting their lives at risk.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) sent a deputation of senior officials into the West Lothian establishment after the Evening News passed on a string of concerns raised by frontline custody officers. Staff from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland also went into Addiewell also attended.
The swoop follows multiple claims of a ‘culture of fear’ among guards over allegations of mismanagement of Covid-19 precautions which officers say has left them fearing for their safety behind bars guarding some of SCotland’s most dangerous prisoners.
HMP Addiewell is operated by Sodexo on a multi-million pound per year contract for the SPS, which retains a duty of care over its inmates. It houses some of the country’s top dangermen including the leaders of serious and organised crime gangs, murderers and scores of violent offenders.
Staff claim they are blamed for Covid breaches and threatened with docked wages if they have to self-isolate more than twice.
They say senior management created their own Covid rules which have left the establishment short-staffed during the pandemic, with wings holding violent convicts at times patrolled by a single guard.
Sodexo confirmed the prison was short-staffed while refuting some other allegations. However, the SPS believe the guards have ‘legitimate concerns for their safety’ and sent its own officials into Addiewell to investigate.
The most serious allegations are centred on claims of single guards being left in charge of the prison’s most violent wing as inmates attempted to set fires, flood their cells.
Staff claim inmates have been allowed out of their cells for just 15 minutes a day – leaving Addiewell on the verge of imploding.
A senior SPS insider confirmed details of the concerns, labelling the situation ‘utterly untenable’.
He said: “What is clear is that there is a complete breakdown of trust between the frontline staff and management, which is utterly untenable. Prisons are a unique environment. The inmates sense what is happening and will look for any opportunity to make the most of it.
"Staff have to rely on each other and the management for a prison to operate safely. As it currently stands there is no confidence that this is the case in Addiewell. Lives could be at risk.”
Due to staff shortages, some standard operating procedures have been abandoned, including the deployment of two officers to open cells and conduct searches.
It has also been claimed that staff have been kept on duty until the end of a shift after receiving a positive test for Covid.
Sources also contend that officers are being encouraged to return to work before the 10 day isolation period advised by the Scottish government - with one senior member of staff allegedly warning: “The government have their rules and Addiewell has theirs.”
One source said: “There is a complete lack of communication and desire to follow protocol. I have heard of incidents where staff members working on Covid wings have been told to put on their PPE, take it off and then put it on again by three different members of experienced staff during the same shift.
“There has also been a circulation of an email and letter to staff members that attempt to pin the blame onto officers for Covid breaches with no recognition of the mismanagement that has been rife during the latest outbreak. We have been threatened with disciplinary action and loss of wages if we are seen to be acting irresponsibly by having to self isolate more than twice.
“Some members of staff are being offered triple time to come into work to deal with the shortages. Others are being advised to ignore government guidelines and to return to work even though they have not completed their 10 days of isolation.”
Staff say their fears have been dismissed and that a bullying culture exists where officers are labelled as “weak” and told to go “get another job” if they cannot handle the environment.
Several officers confirmed a feeling that there was a larger unsafe culture prevalent at the jail with staff being left to deal with HIV and Hepatitis C positive inmates unaware of their health complications.
One source claimed: “There have been several incidents where inexperienced prison officers have been put in dangerous situations without even knowing the full extent of what they are facing. At times employees have been expected to restrain inmates who have highly contagious and serious conditions.
“We had one incident where an inmate who was HIV and Hepatitis C positive had cut themselves and a member of staff as the officer tried to restrain him. Following this there were no tests carried out and to this day members of staff are still dealing with infectious inmates without having Hepatitis jags administered.”
The wife of an inmate said lockdown conditions were imposed on February 10.
She said: “Prisoners are losing their minds with the restrictions.
“My husband and his fellow prisoners have gone days without eating because the food was so cold by the time it arrived. I have heard of prisoners flooding their rooms as their orders from the canteen are not being delivered.”
Sodexo admitted placing inmates in lockdown and that staff had been sent letters warning them of ‘consequences’ if they test positive with Covid.
Fraser Munro, Prison Director, added: “Staffing at the prison was severely affected for a period, following a full testing programme of all staff and prisoners and a subsequent track and trace exercise. In the circumstances, we had to severely restrict the prison routine, to provide the safest possible working environment for available staff and minimise the spread of any infection. Where necessary, we reviewed and improved our procedures, following guidance from health authorities. This was a very difficult period for everyone in the prison and we are hugely proud of our staff team, who worked tirelessly and professionally under very difficult circumstances.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The safety and wellbeing of all those living and working in Scotland’s prisons is paramount.
“Any HMP Addiewell staff members with any concerns should raise them through appropriate reporting mechanisms with their employer, or with the SPS who have operational oversight for the contract.”
Local MP Hannah Bardell confirmed she had been contacted by prison staff, adding that “the issues they raise are very worrying.”
An SPS spokesperson said: “The SPS has the responsibility for managing the contract at Addiewell and would hope that any concerns that staff may raise be addressed by local management.”