Wakefield prison is the largest maximum security prison in Europe. Two-thirds of prisoners are serving a life sentence, and staff are under intense pressure, managing some of the most challenging, dangerous and complex prisoners in the country. It is testament to their skill and patience that Wakefield is seen as one of the best managed prisons in the country.
The Ministry of Justice has suffered huge budget cuts since 2010, and prison violence has risen as a result. Assaults on prison staff in England and Wales have nearly trebled from 2,848 in 2010 to 10,213 in 2018. This summer, two of Wakefield’s prison officers, Lee Chopping and Kevin Doherty, came to Parliament with the Joint Unions in Prison Alliance (Jupa), a coalition of nine trade unions which represents the majority of staff in prisons. They were lobbying for better working conditions for prison staff, who face daily threats of violence from inmates. A Jupa survey found that over a quarter of respondents had suffered violence at work in the last year, and almost two-thirds felt unsafe. This constant threat of violence takes a toll on staff mental health.
Lee told me how he and a colleague were violently assaulted, and now wants CS spray for prison officers. He believes that the spray would have prevented his assault by a prisoner with nothing to fear but a few more months being added to his life sentence.
The Government should tackle violence against prison staff, restore funding to prisons, and recruit more prison officers. Lee, Kevin and his colleagues deserve our support.
Hunger is a growing problem in Wakefield, with the Trussell Trust reporting that over four thousand three-day emergency food parcels were given to people in our district in the past year, with 1,400 parcels going to children.
The National School Breakfast Programme (NSBP) provides a free, healthy breakfast to children in 12 schools across Wakefield, funded by the Department for Education and delivered by two fantastic charities Magic Breakfast and Family Action.
I visited Wakefield Pinders Primary School last month, where around 30 pupils receive breakfast as part of the NSBP. I met with Headteacher Lorna Kemplay, School Business Manager Louise Bowen and the Chief Executive of Magic Breakfast, Carmel McConnell. Local East ward Councillors Stuart Heptinstall, Olivia Rowley and Ros Lund also attended. We enjoyed a special high fibre bagel, baked in Leeds, which is now on sale in Iceland stores!
Teachers told me they could see a real difference in the children since the breakfast club started, as it helps them learn and improves their results.
Funding for the programme ends in March 2020, and I have written to the Minister for Children and Families, calling for her to ensure that support for the programme continues.
As ever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office if you need my help: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Wakefield Express on Thursday 26 September 2019.