A disturbance in which prison officers were reported to have lost control at a men’s prison in Hertfordshire has been brought under control.
The incident began at HMP The Mount on Monday afternoon and was said to have spanned two wings housing 227 inmates.
Tornado squads, who are equipped to deal with riots, were earlier sent in to deal with the unrest and it had since been “resolved”, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.
The Mount – in the village of Bovingdon – has been running a ‘restricted regime’ in recent weeks because of staff shortages.
According to Alex Cavendish, a prison affairs academic and blogger, inmates had been locked up for 24 hours a day in some cases and food had been delivered cold to cell doors.
“The technical term is that the staff have lost control of two wings,” he added.
“What ‘lost control’ means is that the prisoners are basically rioting, in layman’s terms.”
The Prison Service would only describe it as “an incident involving a number of prisoners”, adding that the prison was “completely secure” and there was “no risk to the public”.
A 2015 inspection had concluded that the prison was “reasonably safe” and felt “calm and well ordered”, with some “room for improvement”.
But Mr Cavendish has claimed he warned the prison was “on the brink of a meltdown” only days ago.
An assessment by the jail’s Independent Monitoring Board said last year that all the “ingredients” were in place for The Mount to “suffer disorder such as has been experienced in other prisons – staff shortages, readily available drugs, mounting violence.”
The report added that The Mount had struggled with staff shortages “driven by uncompetitive pay scales”.
At the end of February, the report said there were 24 vacancies out of 136 officer positions, while many of the officers and managers had less than two years’ experience.
But, despite this, the IMB said the prison had ended the year as a safe place where inmates had a good chance of rehabilitation.
The Mount is a Category C male prison which opened in Hemel Hempstead in 1987 and holds more than 1,000 prisoners.
Mark Fairhurst, acting national chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “We need to increase the starting salary to incentivise people to join and then we need to give them regular increments to incentivise them to stay.
“That’s not happening at the moment.”
Asked why it is difficult to retain staff he said: “It’s a combination of adverse working conditions, the violence that they face, and the poor salary.”