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Prison and Probation Officers: Recruitment and Retention

Volume 705: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2021

4. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the recruitment and retention of prison and probation officers. (904748)

Since October 2016, band 3 to 5 prison officer numbers have increased by more than 4,000 from 17,955 to 22,325 full-time equivalents. In the year to March 2021, we recruited more than 1,000 trainee probation officers and we will recruit a further 1,500 by the end of March next year.

The prisons White Paper concedes that attrition rates among prison officers are too high,

“causing an unsustainable level of turnover in the system… contributing to a vicious cycle of staff dissatisfaction and lack of retention.”

With even the Prison Service’s new retention framework conceding that low wages are key driver of attrition, when will the Minister stand up for both prison officers and probation officers and give them the proper pay rise the Government’s own experts recommend?

We do recognise that attrition among prison officers is an issue, which is why we have put in place retention toolkits in prisons, providing governors with the support and tools that they need for employee retention. As far as pay is concerned, the hon. Lady knows that the economic ravages of the pandemic meant that there did need to be a pause in pay, but now that the Department has received a three-year spending settlement, it means that we can commence more coherent conversations with unions and others about what pay might look like in the years to come.

I welcome the Government’s plans to recruit 5,000 new prison officers, but recruitment of prison officers and their retention would be made easier if the number of assaults in prison were to come down. In the 12 months to June, there were 7,612 assaults on prison officers, one third of which were categorised as serious. What is being done to prosecute and extend the sentences of each and every convict who assaults a prison officer?

Obviously the issue of assaults against our staff in all its forms is one that we take extremely seriously. My hon. Friend is quite right that we hope and expect that prison governors work closely with their local police forces to ensure that any crimes that are committed against prison staff are appropriately pursued and prosecuted, and that sentences are handed out where appropriate. He will know though that much of the violence in prisons is driven by drugs, and I hope he will recognise and welcome the work that we are doing as part of the prevention approach to reduce drug consumption and therefore abuse within the secure estate.