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Prison Officers: Recruitment

Volume 628: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017

Between the start of January and the end of June 2017, there has been a net increase of 868 new prison officers. That puts us well on track to recruit 2,500 new officers by December 2018.

The Minister will be aware of the major drugs finds and related problems at Holme House prison in my constituency, where experienced officers have left and have been replaced by 18-year-old recruits. Does he really think that recruiting youngsters is the answer when it comes to meeting the needs of our increasing prison population, tackling drugs, and solving the crisis in the Prison Service?

I take issue with the implication behind the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are recruiting new prison officers. We were all inexperienced once, but that did not mean that we were not capable of doing our jobs. I have been to the Newbold Revel training centre; I know that many of our recruits are of the highest calibre, and that the recruitment methods are those that have been used over a number of years. The Opposition did not believe that we could deliver these numbers, but we are delivering them, and I think that the Opposition should be supporting the Government.

As a result of the Government’s excellent policy, a new, modern prison has been built in Wellingborough. Can the Minister tell me how many of the new prison officers will be working there, and when the prison might open? If he cannot do so now, will he write to me, please?

I will certainly write to my hon. Friend. The staffing arrangements at Wellingborough have not been decided yet, but we are very proud, and very keen to be progressive in opening the prison.

The Minister is boasting about the number of prison officers who have been recruited this year, but the Ministry’s own figures show that 35 prisons—a third of the total—have suffered a fall in frontline officer numbers since January this year. Is this another example of what the former director-general of the Prison Service now describes as Ministers

“doing nothing except issue cheery press releases...which suggest all is going precisely to plan”?

It has nothing to do with “cheery press releases”. There are 868 people on the payroll, who have started work in our prisons and are doing a heroic and brave job. We promised to invest £100 million to recruit 2,500 new officers by the end of 2013, and we are on track to deliver that target. Of course there are wider issues in our prison system, such as the retention of officers, but we are working on those. We are also going beyond that, recruiting smart graduates to work on the frontline, and we have exceeded our targets for the Unlocked programme.

Those are not boasts. It was the Opposition who talked prison officers down and said that no one would want to work in our prisons. It is good to see people stepping up to do what is a brave and challenging job.