MoJ claims ‘milestone’ in prison officer recruitment
Minister says target to hire 2,500 new staff has passed the half way mark but union warns attrition rates are at an all-time high
A prison officer secures a stairway Credit: PA
The Ministry of Justice has said its drive to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers by the end of next year has passed the half-way mark, providing a boost to the nation’s under-strain secure estate.
Plans for the recruitment drive were announced by then-justice secretary Liz Truss last year in the wake of concerns over levels of violence and suicide rates inside prisons. They also came on the back of a 30% cut in officer numbers during the early years of the coalition government.
The MoJ said that the latest figures indicated that between October 2016 and August this year there had been a net increase of 1,290 new prison officers who would “provide a necessary boost to the frontline so prisons can better tackle violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths”.
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It said a further 872 men and women were expected to have started their training by January next year.
Prisons minister Sam Gyimah said the figures were evidence of the government’s “unprecedented action” to improve prison safety.
“I have met prison officers across the country and am continually impressed by the work they do to manage prisoners day in and day out, to keep our prisons and the public safe,” he said.
“Bringing in these additional officers is critical to achieving safe regimes and I am committed to building on these figures.”
According to the MoJ’s figures, there were a total of 20,003 Band 3 to Band 5 prison officers in post at the end of August, of which all but 261 were based in HM Prison Service establishments. The figure compares with 18,703 at the end of October last year.
However, HM Prison & Probation Service recruitment will have to rein in consistently high levels of staff churn to ensure that its hiring rate consistently outpaces attrition.
Prison Officers Association spokesman Glyn Travis said figures from the past 18 months, rather than the past 10, gave a less rosy picture of prison service staffing.
“The drive to recruit 2,500 new officers may be well under way but the government through HMPPS is having to put forward significant bonuses to attract and retain these staff,” he said.
“Attrition rates are at an all-time high and the overall increase in headcount in 18 months is less than 900.
“Therefore the real requirement of staff is 4,500 rather 2,500 and even this will not address safety and violence. This is too little too late.”
In August, Civil Service World reported that there had been an 8.3% churn rate in the Prison Service over the latest year for which figures were available. The rate rose to 9.3% for frontline staff.
However, these figures to the end of August will not reflect the impact of ministers decision last month to scrap the 1% public sector cap on pay rises in relation to prison officers.
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