'No more sugar coating': MoJ tries new approach in prison-officer recruitment drive

New video adverts depict grim reality of working in prisons
Image: MoJ

By Jonathan Owen

02 Oct 2023

The Ministry of Justice has launched its first ever national TV and radio advertising campaign in a bid to recruit prison officers. The advert has the tagline “An extraordinary job. Done by someone like you”, and depicts aspects of the job such as dealing with violent prisoners and people in distress.

It is “a departure from what’s gone before and aims to tell the human stories of prisoners and staff, through scenes depicting the reality of working in these extraordinary roles,” according to the MoJ. 

The new advert represents a “bold new approach” that will “stop ‘sugar coating’ roles”.

It has been informed by research commissioned by the MoJ that found less than half (47%) of the public don’t know much, if anything, about what the prison service does. This level of ignorance results in many of those who become prison officers ending up leaving “due to having misunderstood what the role involves", according to the department.

The department admits that recruiting the right people “has been a challenge in the past”. It is aiming to hire 5,000 prison officers by the mid-2020s, "so the system has the capacity and people it needs to rehabilitate prisoners and protect the public".

The adverts will run on catch-up TV, digital audio and social media in England and Wales throughout the autumn.

The new campaign comes amid concern over the lack of experienced prison officers. Recent figures show the proportion of prison officers with a decade or more of experience has halved from 60% in 2017 to 30% today.

And earlier this year, parliament’s Justice Committee warned that two in five (42%) staff who deal directly with prisoners plan to leave their jobs in the next five years.

Announcing the new campaign yesterday, prisons minister Damian Hinds said: “This ambitious campaign aims – for the first time – to accurately portray the realities of working on the prison landings and shine a light on the people who do these challenging, but invaluable roles.”

Sarah Berry, a custodial manager at HMP Berwyn, who took part in filming, said: “I’m really happy to see a more authentic advert for prison officer recruitment at last. It’s important that new recruits know that working in a prison is noisy and busy and at times it can be very hard, both emotionally and physically.”

She added: “We do experience conflict on a daily basis, but you really can make a difference to prisoners. By winning their trust and respect you help them develop trust and respect for each other too, most importantly reducing their likelihood of reoffending – and that makes it all worth it.”

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