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Prison Officer Recruitment

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2018

I am delighted to say that we have been very successful and are well ahead of schedule. Instead of simply 2,500 extra prison officers, we have 3,653 more than we had in 2016, and job offers have gone out to a further 2,000 potential prison officers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome those additional prison officers. What protective equipment is being provided to prison officers to keep them and the prison population safer?

The use of body-worn cameras and CCTV cameras, which we have rolled out, makes it much easier to monitor what is happening in prisons. For extreme situations, we are rolling out the ability to use pepper spray. The key will be not the protective equipment but having in place the right support and training for prison officers, to make sure that their behaviour to a prisoner is appropriate, both to challenge and to reform. That involves investing in our senior staff to provide that model.

Data shows that a third of new prison officers leave the service within the first two years, so even if the Government meet their 2,500 recruitment target, nearly 800 officers will leave within the first 24 months. What steps will the Minister take to address the shockingly low level of staff retention in the Prison Service?

I am glad to say that attrition rates are beginning to stabilise, but they are of course a massive concern. More decent, cleaner, less drug-filled and violent prisons will be important for staff morale, and the right training—we are transforming training courses—will be central for prison officers. We have a huge opportunity. These are young, idealistic people, often with fantastic communication skills. We need to invest in them, because they are the foundation for the future of the Prison Service.

Central to the welcome drive to recruit more prison officers is the need to ensure that they can work safely. Prison officers at HMP Gartree in my constituency are concerned that sometimes, as a result of local police and Crown Prosecution Service decisions, assaults on staff are not prosecuted. Will the Minister assure me that he will look into the matter if I write to him, and that any act of violence against our brave prison officers is unacceptable?

This point is central. We need to make sure that prisoners are appropriately challenged and punished, particularly if they assault prison officers. Far too many prison officers who are protecting us —protecting the public—are being assaulted. We are therefore piloting in HMP Isis in London a system whereby the Metropolitan police is putting officers into prisons to follow up and increase the chance of prosecution. That is also why we pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has worked with us to double the maximum sentence for assaults on prison officers, and that comes into effect today.

The Minister would not need to be talking about training for new officers had the Government not got rid of 7,000 experienced prison officers to start with. Does he now accept that that was a massive mistake and has contributed to disorder, the rising drug use and assaults on prison staff within our prisons?

To agree with the hon. Lady to some extent, clearly the fact that we are recruiting 2,500 more officers reflects the fact that we think we need 2,500 more officers. Looking forward, the key is to make sure that people are supported both in college and on the landings to have the skill and experience they need. The challenge now is not numbers, but training and the estate.