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Prison Officers: Retention

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

Recruiting and retaining engaged and motivated staff is critical to making our prisons safer and stopping reoffending. We have spent an additional £100 million to ensure we have thousands of extra prison officers at the frontline, allowing us to run better regimes and improve staff-prisoner relationships. From October 2016 to September 2018, there was a net increase of 4,364 full-time equivalent prison officers. We know that the retention of staff will take more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Specific action is being taken where attrition is most acute.

Morale among prison officers is at an all-time low because of low pay, understaffing and soaring violence, and now a retirement age that could go as late as 68. Police officers get the same protection as prison officers, and they are allowed to retire at 60. Why can prison officers not?

Of course, a deal was offered to prison officers and rejected a couple of years or so ago, but to come back to the point about morale, it is important that we address violence in prisons. That is why we have increased the number of staff, why we are giving prison officers the tools that they need—for example, PAVA—and why we are determined to ensure that we can turn this increase in violence around.

It is clear that we have an issue with experienced prison officers leaving the service. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that, in line with best human resources practices, exit interviews are being conducted with staff before they leave so that we can address the issues that are causing them to leave the service?

My hon. Friend is right to say that that is best practice, and it does happen within the prison service. We are looking at the evidence of the effectiveness of that to ensure that we make best use of it. It is important that we learn from the experiences of prison officers and get their feedback, so that when prison officers do leave, we understand the reasons why.

The independent monitoring board at HMP Birmingham has said that standards have improved as a direct result of the reduction in the prison population and the addition of much needed staff. Already this year, urgent notifications have been issued at Nottingham, Birmingham, Bedford and Exeter prisons. How bad do things have to get before the Government launch a specific plan to re-recruit experienced prison officers who have left the prison system due to the Government’s austerity?

I am glad that the hon. Lady acknowledges that progress is being made at Birmingham, and it was right that we stepped in in August last year to turn that prison around. I reiterate that we have increased prison officer numbers very significantly, by 4,364, when our target was to recruit an additional 2,500 prison officers. We achieved that well ahead of schedule, and we have got the numbers increasing. We are seeing some signs of improvements in our prisons—not just at HMP Birmingham—but we need to build on that. It is still the early stages, but we are making progress.

Prison officers in HMP Lewes tell me that the scourge of mobile phones in the prison, which are used to co-ordinate violence and drugs, makes their job much more difficult. Does the Secretary of State therefore welcome the news that the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill, which will block mobile phone signals in prisons, is likely to get Royal Assent this week?

I am delighted to do that and to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that she put in on that Bill. It is an important step forward. She is right to highlight the problems with mobile phones. As a Government, we are determined to take action to address that, and her work helps us.