The threat posed to prison staff by incarcerated gangsters has never been greater, according to a 30-year veteran.
Phil Fairlie, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, says the growing number of serious organized crime offenders being held in Scotland’s overcrowded prisons is increasing the risks to staff.
He said most people were relieved to know that gangsters were being taken off the streets, that prison officials faced an unprecedented threat from gangsters still fighting for dominance behind bars.
He said: “The public will be pleased to see an increase in the number of members of organized crime gangs behind bars in prison.”
“I understand why that is, but it means there is a different group of staff tasked with managing it on a day-to-day basis.
“I think the level of threat and intimidation right now is unprecedented.
“There are cases that I would not discuss publicly, they are ongoing as part of police investigations and prosecutions.
“But the level of threat and intimidation that staff face is the worst I have seen in the 30-plus years I have been working in prisons.”
Mr Fairlie was responding to a new report warning that the number of people in custody is expected to rise next year.
Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, the chief inspector of Scottish prisons, said prison numbers fell during the Covid pandemic – but have risen again.
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Their annual report included a warning that the number was likely to rise to more than 8,000 next year.
Mr Fairlie said staff knew better than anyone about the risks posed by career criminals involved in drug dealing, violence and dirty money schemes.
And they face the constant challenge of dealing with bitter rivals eager to “settle old scores” and “work together while continuing their business behind bars.”
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, he added: “Just managing these tasks on a daily basis requires an enormous amount of time and human resources.”
“All prison staff know that every day is a risk.
“There are levels and at the moment the number of organized crime gangs we have there and the drug problem is a constant, everyday problem for us.
“The mix of all the things that are happening in prisons at the moment increases the level of risk and probably increases the level of risk that staff face.
“No one is more aware of the risk employees face than employees themselves when they walk through that door every day.”
In her fifth annual report, Ms Sinclair-Gieben said the number of inmates in Scotland’s 15 prisons exceeded 8,000 in February 2019 for the first time in a decade and was expected to rise further.
Justice Minister Angela Constance said in a letter to Holyrood’s criminal justice committee that the prison population rose by about 600 to 7,931 on Monday.
She said modeling of Scotland’s population “suggests it could reach unprecedented levels by the end of the year”.
Ms Constance said: “The increase is influenced by several factors, including the reduction in the backlog of cases in our justice system by more than a third.”
We told how James “The” Don White was one of the latest high-profile gangsters to be jailed as part of Police Scotland’s Operation Escalade, which targeted Scotland’s most sophisticated drugs, weapons and cash cartels.
Coke smuggler White, 46, from Gartcosh, Lanarkshire, was jailed for nine years last month, making him one of around 46 criminals jailed as part of the police’s long-running investigation into organized crime.
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