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Prison Officer Numbers

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

We are committed to recruiting 5,000 additional prison officers across the public and private estate by the mid-2020s. We have seen recent improvements in recruitment, with 655 additional full-time equivalent officers appointed between December 2022 and March 2023 alone.

At risk of being potted, kettled or attacked with toothbrushes that have razors fastened to the end, the work of a prison officer is not for the faint-hearted, yet their role is essential to keeping us free. We have just celebrated Armed Forces Week, and rightly so—I say that as a former veteran—but it troubles me that we do not have a similar week to celebrate the work of prison officers. We do not do enough to recognise their service to keep us all safe and free, across society. Can we change that, please, and urgently?

My hon. Friend is right about the paramountcy of safety for our brave staff, which is why we have been investing in security, body-worn cameras, PAVA spray and so on. He is also right that prison officers are often hidden heroes in our society, and they do not always get the recognition they deserve. As it happens, this evening is His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service staff awards, which I am looking forward to attending, and I am keen to find more ways to publicly recognise these incredible people for what they do. His suggestion of a Prison Officers Week is interesting. More generally, I hope all colleagues will take the opportunity to visit their local prisons and to speak directly to prison officers.

According to the Prison Officers Association, the turnover rate among officers is still very high. What discussions has the Minister had with the POA about not only recruitment but retention?

I have spoken to the POA about recruitment and retention, as the hon. Gentleman would expect. We have recently seen about a 1 percentage point improvement in the resignation rate, which is significant, but we have to make sure that all aspects of the job are right. Of course it is about pay and conditions, but it is also about things such as safety and making sure prison officers have the right support for what can be, mentally, a very difficult and straining job.