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Prison Officers: Years of Experience

Volume 695: debated on Tuesday 18 May 2021

What recent estimate his Department has made of the cumulative number of years of experience held by currently serving prison officers. (900147)

As at 31 December 2020, the cumulative length of service by all band 3 to 5 prison officers was more than 243,000 years. From late 2016 to the end of December 2020, the number of prison officers has increased by more than 3,600. Having experienced staff in prisons is vital to ensuring that they remain safe, secure and decent.

I thank the Minister for his answer to my question. We both know that being a prison officer is a difficult job that takes years of experience to perfect, yet a combined 86,000 years of experience has been lost since 2010. Does he accept that this has had a catastrophic effect on safety, and will he commit to giving prison officers the pay rise his experts recommend to tackle the problem?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for rightly paying tribute to our prison officers. Let us just pause to reflect for a moment. At the beginning of this pandemic, Public Health England estimated that, on a reasonable worst-case scenario, more than 2,500 prisoners could die in prison. Because of the excellent work of our prison officers, that figure—although each one is a tragedy—is closer to 119. It was prison officers who delivered that. I am pleased to say that, even in this difficult financial situation, our prison officers received between 2.5% and 7.5% increases last year. We are also investing heavily in the security equipment needed, including PAVA spray, SPEAR—spontaneous protection enabling accelerated response—training, and body-worn video cameras, that make prisons a better and more conducive environment not only for prisoners but for prison staff.

The Minister must surely recognise that there are consequences to 86,000 years of staff experience being lost since 2010, because what happens when there are not enough experienced staff can be summed up in one word: violence. In 2019, violence was 134% higher than in 2010. Even last year, with prisoners locked up alone, violence was 38% higher. Self-harm has doubled, and assaults on staff have tripled. Experience matters. With further cuts coming, thanks to the Minister’s friends in the Treasury, will he recognise this? How is he going to make our prisons safer?

I agreed with the first half of that but not the second half. It is absolutely right that we have retention. May I reassure the hon. Lady that there are an additional 3,600 prison officers? In fact, I am sorry to say that what she said about the data on violence is wrong. The violence in terms of assaults on prison officers has gone down by 20%. I hope she will also be reassured to know that the leaving rate is down by nearly 3% as well. We are getting behind our prison officers. We are investing in our prisons. We are providing the security, providing the investment and making sure that their brilliant work can continue long into the future.