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Prison Officers

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2016

A core part of our prison safety and reform plan is the recruitment of an additional 2,500 prison officers. In 10 of our most challenging prisons, we have already started a recruitment programme, and we have made 280 job offers.

We have nearly 7,000 fewer prison officers in our prisons than in 2010. The Government have announced an increase in the prisons budget of £100 million to recruit or re-recruit an extra 2,500 officers. Is it any wonder that the service is in a mess?

In our “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper, we make it very clear that it is important to have a skilled force of officers. That is why we are investing £100 million, which will enable us to make sure that one officer is responsible for six prisoners. Through our work, we have shown that that is effective in keeping a prison safe, and in being able to turn around the lives of offenders.

I have three prisons in my constituency. Combined, they have one of the largest concentrations of prisoners in the country. The prison officers in Sheppey’s prisons are fantastic people—dedicated, hard working and highly responsible—but Sheppey’s prisons are seriously understaffed. Because of our location in the south-east of England, it is difficult to recruit officers, given the number of other jobs available to them. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give my prison officers that steps will be taken to solve the problem of recruitment on Sheppey?

I agree with my hon. Friend that prison officers do a fantastic job. When I visit prisons up and down the country, I meet officers and see the great work they do, their dedication to the job and why they have gone into it. There are staff recruitment issues in about a quarter of our prisons because there is high demand for employees, particularly in the south-east of England. That is why we are enabling governors to offer market supplements of up to £4,000 to recruit officers, and retention payments of up to £3,000 to keep those officers on board.

It is not just the cut of 7,000 prison officers, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) talked about; another 7,000 non-officer grades are also being cut. That is a total cut of 14,000 staff—2,000 is a drop in the ocean. That is why people are getting hurt and killed in Britain’s prisons. When will the Secretary of State return staffing to pre-2010 levels, which is needed to ensure safety in prisons?

The important point is that the staffing that we are putting into our prisons is evidence-based and enables us to operate with a ratio of one officer for every six prisoners. That is what works.

In a Westminster Hall debate last week, the prisons Minister confirmed that it is his intention for each prisoner to have a dedicated prison officer, who will be responsible for six inmates. He called it the new offender management model and the new staffing model. Will the Secretary of State explain whether that is based on current staffing levels or whether it is an aspiration for the future? What are the details of the new models?

That is what we will operate when we get up to the full complement of having the additional 2,500 officers. We have already started with 10 of the most challenging prisons. Of the 400 prison officers we are seeking to recruit, we have offered jobs to 280. It will take time to build up the prison officer workforce. That is why we are launching a new apprenticeship scheme, a new fast-track scheme for graduates, and a scheme to recruit former armed forces personnel. We will not achieve this overnight, but it is important to build up the workforce to improve safety and reform in our prisons.

The prisons Minister also told the Justice Committee last week that, in order to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers by 2018, the Ministry of Justice would have to recruit a total of 8,000 officers, due to the staff leaving rate. Michael Spurr said that the leaving rate after just the first year as a prison officer is 13.5%. How does the Secretary of State plan to retain the new staff who are leaving and the prison officers that she plans to recruit in future? Will she spend whatever it takes to get a grip on the crisis?

As I said, we are investing £100 million in recruiting the additional 2,500 officers. We are launching a new apprenticeship scheme, a new graduate scheme and a scheme to recruit people from the armed services. We are improving career progression in the Prison Service to ensure that our experienced officers get the opportunities that they deserve. In the 25% of prisons in which we struggle to recruit in London and the south-east, we are offering additional payments. We are doing everything we can to build up that strength because it is important to delivering safe and reformed prisons.