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Prison Officers: Safety

Volume 632: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2017

In addition to strengthening the frontline by boosting prison officer numbers, we are using intelligence-led searches and joint operations with law enforcement agencies to disrupt the supply of drugs, phones and other illicit items that drive violence in prisons. We have invested in 5,600 body-worn cameras to help to protect prison staff, and we are working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute prisoners who assault officers.

On a visit to Rochester prison last Thursday, I heard that perceptions of prison officer safety were affecting recruitment. Can the Secretary of State tell us what the Department is doing to support the recruitment of prison officers?

We are meeting with considerable success in filling the 2,500 additional prison officer places that my predecessor, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), successfully negotiated a year ago. We are also developing a graduate entry scheme for prison officers, and working with the armed forces to ensure that the service leavers scheme takes proper account of the opportunities in the prison service.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mrs Badenoch) makes an important point about how the perception of safety can affect recruitment and retention in the prison service. Will the Secretary of State give me an update on the Government’s workforce strategy for all justice sector staff—safety issues affect everyone in the sector—and commit today to involving all trade union stakeholders in the development of that workforce strategy?

The right hon. Lady makes a good point. Within Government, we continue to discuss how we might look at changes and reforms to the way in which the prison and probation workforces are structured, but irrespective of those discussions, we are proceeding with measures to give additional support to prison governors and prison officers by boosting regional management teams and trying to ensure that professional development is taken seriously at all ranks of the prison service.

The reality of life in our prisons is one of inexperienced prison officers dealing with more violent and dangerous situations on a daily basis, and that is a direct result of this Government’s cutting 7,000 prison officers. They have now slammed that into reverse to recruit 2,500 officers, as has been announced today. There are prison officers in the Gallery today who are visiting on a lobby with the Prison Officers Association. Will he agree to meet them to discuss prison officer safety?

My hon. Friend the Prisons Minister and I meet representatives of the Prison Officers Association both at national level and whenever we go to visit prisons, where we make a point of talking directly to staff and listening to their concerns. I believe that, as well as recruiting additional officers as promised, we need to ensure that anybody who attacks a prison officer is properly prosecuted, where there is good evidence available. That is what ought to happen, and I hope that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service will work with us to ensure that we get those outcomes.