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Prison Officer Recruitment

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015

I believe that prison officers are among the unsung heroes of the public sector. Day in day out, they do amazing work in protecting the public. I am pleased to report that we more than met our target of 1,700 new prison officers by March 2015, and we intend to recruit a further 1,700 by March 2016.

I welcome that update. As the Minister knows, prison officers serving in HMP Norwich in my constituency, which he visited recently, and at nearby prisons such as Bure, work incredibly hard in difficult circumstances. Will he do everything possible to support them in relation to their work and conditions?

Of course I will. Both Norwich and Bure prisons are well resourced with prison officers and have a full complement of staff, but the National Offender Management Service will continue to monitor the resources that are available to both governors. I was very impressed with the work that was being done in Norwich prison, and also by the work being done in Café Britannia, outside the prison gates.

How many prison officers were in post in May 2010, and how many are in post now? Have the numbers not been cut by about 40% overall?

I will write to the right hon. Gentleman with the exact figures. However, our benchmarking exercise has brought about a number of developments, not least the prisoner-facing roles that prison officers did not always have before. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that we have closed 14 prisons. The National Audit Office has complimented us on our management of the prison estate, and we continue to recruit more prison officers.

I understand that the Minister has created a reserve force of prison officers and three reserve prisons, one of which is Wellingborough. Will he say a little more about that exercise?

As my hon. Friend may know, when soldiers leave the Regular Army, we encourage some of them to join the Army reserves, and I suppose that this concept is similar to that. The prison officer reserve has about 100 members, which gives us flexibility. I cannot update my hon. Friend any further on what I have said in the past, but this is the right thing to do.

Does the Minister share my deep concern about the fact that some of the prison officers who are currently being recruited have not even undergone a simple Criminal Records Bureau check?

I am very surprised to hear that. We take prison officer training extremely seriously, but I shall look into what the hon. Gentleman has just told me as a matter of urgency. We are increasing the amount of time that prison officers spend being trained, and we continually improve the training we give them.