In the last year, assaults have risen by 31% and those on prison staff have risen by 40%. That is totally unacceptable and I am determined to tackle it. Reforming prisons will be possible only if they are made safer places for staff and offenders alike.
As the Secretary of State’s response makes clear, prison safety continues to deteriorate. That significant problem puts both prisoners and staff at risk, but a major issue that must be tackled is the retention of staff. Will she set out exactly what she will do to make that a priority and how she will succeed where her predecessors have failed?
I absolutely agree that the retention of staff is a very important issue. I have been to a number of prisons and seen how brave, fearless and hard-working our prison officers are. They are vital in turning around offenders and getting them the education and skills they need to succeed outside. I am determined to support and work with them, and over the coming months I will lay out more detailed plans.
May I warmly welcome the Secretary of State and her team to their posts? Lawyers do sometimes have their uses, and so do non-lawyers. Her predecessor made prison reform a centrepiece of the agenda and rightly described the deterioration of safety in prisons as terrible. The figures have now got worse. He committed to an action plan to tackle violence in our prisons. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm that, and what specific steps will be taken to deal with what is a ticking time bomb in our criminal justice system, because nothing else has worked?
May I say how pleased I am to have been able to meet the Chairman of the Justice Committee? I take the advice of all my lawyers, but particularly that of the Chairman of the Select Committee, extremely seriously.
This is a critical issue that faces our prisons. We cannot have reform in our prisons if we do not have safe prisons for people to work in. Those two things go hand in hand. I am committed to an agenda of making our prisons safe and places of reform. I will be laying out my plans very shortly on this issue, and I look forward to discussing it more with the Select Committee tomorrow.
Will the Secretary of State look again at statements that were made by her Department recently about the number of prison officers? The Department claims that the number has increased, but it has not. Will she look at the matter again? I believe that she did not take into account staff being regraded or the number of hours that they actually work when she examined the number of officers in the system.
I will, of course, look at those numbers in detail. In fact, I am looking at them at the moment. As well as the number of staff, it is important to consider how staff are deployed and trained, and the powers that governors have to get the best out of staff working in prisons. I am looking at all those aspects, but I agree that staff are absolutely crucial to make our prisons work well.
One of the causes of a lack of safety in prisons has been novel psychoactive substances. Does the Secretary of State agree that the ban on the possession of those substances in prisons should really improve the safety of other prisoners and prison officers, if it is properly enforced?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that NPS have been a major issue in our prisons. When I visited HMP Norwich last week, I was pleased to see that it was using the new legislation to tackle that issue in the prison, to search people and to catch them out. HMP Norwich has succeeded in reducing the usage of such drugs already. I would like to see that type of programme happening more across our prison estate.