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Prison Officer Recruitment

Volume 639: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2018

Retaining and recruiting engaged and motivated staff is critical to delivering the solutions to drive improvement across the service. Between the end of October 2016 and the end of March 2018, we have increased prison officer numbers by 3,111 full-time equivalent staff. This is already significantly over our target of 2,500 additional staff by the end of December 2018. Investing in the frontline is vital for safety, rehabilitation and security, which is why we are spending £100 million a year in additional prison officers.[Official Report, 1 May 2018, Vol. 640, c. 1MC.]

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and commend him for the work that he has done on recruitment. Can he confirm when we can expect to see the new officers on the landings?

I can tell my hon. Friend that 90% of the 3,111 will be on the landings by the summer, and all will be in place and operational by the end of the year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Will he update the House on the progress being made towards the new key worker model and the impact it is having on prison officer recruitment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. The key worker model is crucial. It will allow prison officers to spend more time, both on a one-to-one basis and with small groups of prisoners, improving staff-prisoner relationships. That can help us reduce both violence and reoffending. Some prisons, such as HMP Liverpool, are already running that scheme, and I look forward to more prisons fully implementing that over the months ahead.

Many of Dartmoor prison’s prison officers live in Plymouth and have told me of their concern that prison officer cuts, inexperienced new staff and increasing retirement ages are causing stress and concern. Can the Minister reassure me that there is a proper plan to address staffing and morale in our Prison Service?

There is already a proper plan to address that point about staffing. That is why the numbers are going up, and that is the point I am setting out. The numbers are at a five-year high. We are ahead of what we promised in October 2016. I am pleased that we are doing that and we will continue to recruit new prison officers—net new prison officers—into the Prison Service.

What additional training will these new officers be given to deal with the scourge of the availability of drugs in our prisons throughout the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are refreshing the way that training works for prison officers. It is very important that we deal with the issue of drugs, which has been a real game-changer in its effect on prisons. As we change and refresh our training process, we need to ensure that new prison officers have the skills they need to deal with drugs.

The net increase in the number of prison officers is very welcome, and I particularly welcome the Secretary of State’s reference to a key workers scheme, but does he agree that the mix of the workforce is important? Successful key worker and personal officer schemes will depend on having experienced staff, because they are best able to develop relationships with prisoners and deal with violence, the risk of suicide and other issues. Will a strategy now be put in place for the retention of existing staff, perhaps with incentives to encourage good people to remain in the service?

My hon. Friend is right; it is important that we not only recruit new staff, but retain existing staff. We are working closely with those prisons that are failing to retain staff. It is worth pointing out that in 2017 the percentage of prison officers in bands 3 to 5 who left the service was 9.7%—higher than we would like it, but not particularly out of line with other employers. Prison officers do a very valuable job, and we need to recognise that, support them and encourage those who have a lot to offer to continue to serve.

I am astonished that the Secretary of State can come here and appear somewhat triumphant. Let us be absolutely clear: this Government cut 7,000 prisoner officers, so there are still 4,000 fewer than there were in 2010. When does he expect prison staff numbers to return to 2010 levels?

I suspect that you, Mr Speaker, would stop me if we started a debate on the state of the public finances in 2010 and the difficult decisions that had to be taken as a result of the situation we inherited. The reality is that since October 2016 we have been recruiting more prison officers, we are ahead of what we said we would do and we are continuing to recruit prison officers. That is really important to ensure that prisons operate as they should.