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Prison Officers: Recruitment and Retention

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2017

In November, we announced a £100 million investment to increase prison officer numbers by 2,500. We are on target with that recruitment, and I can tell the hon. Lady today that 700 officers are currently in training—a record number.

An inspection report on Durham prison published this morning shows that 60% of prisoners report feeling unsafe—up from 37% in 2013. At the same time, the number of staff has reduced from 190 to 159. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is harder for prison staff to keep themselves and prisoners safe when numbers have been so reduced? What is she going to do to improve prisoner safety now?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the concerning report on HMP Durham. We are addressing issues of recruitment in that prison and in prisons across the country. We have created 2,000 new positions at a more senior grade for experienced officers with mental health training and other types of training. Those positions will be available in Durham, which will help us to retain some of our experienced and valued staff.

Retaining and recruiting experienced staff is crucial to the success of any organisation. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to keep experienced prison officers, particularly in the north of England?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are creating an additional 2,000 positions, which will be paid around £30,000. They will be available in his local area and in Durham, because it is vital not only that we ensure that we have enough staff—we are recruiting 2,500 prison officers—but that we retain our highly valued existing staff right across the country.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Research by the Community union found that the main barrier to retention was not pay but safety. Prison officers in both private and public prisons feel unprepared, isolated and undermined. Will the Government conduct a complete review of the training, support and development given to prison officers and act on Community’s call for a set of adequate minimum safety standards?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct that prison officers have raised concerns about safety. We are employing more prison officers, so that one officer will have a case load of six offenders, which will help to keep prisons safe and, importantly, turn people’s lives around. We are reviewing training and the career structure for prison officers, ensuring that there are opportunities for promotion and to take on leadership roles.

The Government are closing down old, ineffective prisons and replacing them with modern prisons. In fact, they are building capacity for 10,000 new places on the basis of old for new. Will that not help to retain prison officers?

My hon. Friend is right. I was delighted that we were able to say that Wellingborough will have one of those new prisons. We have just opened HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, which is operating well already and will help us to deal with overcrowding. The new prisons will also ensure that we are able to attract and retain prison officers in places where offenders can be reformed.

I rise to speak as chair of the cross-party justice unions parliamentary group. As the Secretary of State mentioned, HMP Berwyn opened its doors and accepted its first men last week, but how can she condone paying newly recruited prison officers in north Wales £8,000 less than new recruits in south-east England?

I am determined to ensure that we recruit the right number of officers right across the country. In the south-east, where costs are high and where there is much competition for highly skilled individuals, we have specific issues with recruiting and retaining people. However, the 2,000 new more senior roles that I mentioned are available right across the country, and people in HMP Berwyn will be able to apply for them with that extra training and get that extra pay.

There are now 6,000 fewer prison officers on the frontline than in 2010, and they are dealing with more prisoners. The Secretary of State wants 2,500 extra officers by 2017, but officers are leaving the service faster than she can recruit them. When will she come up with an effective plan to turn around that expanding exodus?

I am afraid that there were two factual errors in the hon. Lady’s question. First, the prison population is exactly the same as it was in 2010—it has not gone up. Secondly, we are recruiting people at a record rate and have a record number of officers in training.