Prison officer numbers still falling despite MoJ recruitment push

The Howard League for Penal Reform finds that there were 14,689 frontline officers in prisons in June 2016, down from 15,110 a year earlier

Prison officer numbers fell in the last year in almost every region in England and Wales despite a Ministry of Justice recruitment drive, new research has shown.

The Howard League for Penal Reform published data showing there were 14,689 frontline officers in prisons in June 2016, down from 15,110 a year earlier.

It said the reduction in resources amid a rise in prison population was creating a “toxic cocktail of violence, death and human misery”.

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A 30% cut in prison officers between 2010 and 2013 prompted the MoJ to embark on a major recruitment drive, as violence and suicide behind bars reached record levels.

But the campaign group said almost every region saw a reduction in officers in the year to June 2013, including an 8% decline in the East Midlands and 7% declines in the South West and West Midlands.

Meanwhile the prison population rose from 83,796 to 85,130 between June 2013 and the same month this year, the Howard League said.

Director of campaigns Andrew Neilson said: “These figures show how reductions in staffing and problems in recruiting and retaining new staff are feeding the problems behind bars.”

He added: “Throwing someone into a raging torrent of violence, drugs and despair is not going to help that person steer away from crime.

“On the contrary, it will feed more crime and create yet more pressure on the failing prisons.”

MoJ figures show a 30% increase in the number of deaths in prison custody in the year to June 2016 compared with the previous 12-month period.

They also show a 27% increase in reported incidents of self harm in the year ending March 2016, and a 40% rise in assaults on prison staff.

Calling for an overhaul of prison management in February, then-prime minister David Cameron said the escalation in dangerous incidents “should shame us all”

As part of “wholesale” changes of the system he said prisons’ performance would be subject to greater transparency, with governors handed more control over the education of inmates.

Responding to the Howard League's new research, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Safe prisons are fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system.

"Our dedicated prison staff, who support tens of thousands of prisoners every day, are vital to the safe running of our prisons.

"We have recruited 2,900 staff over the last 12 months and are taking significant action to make sure we have appropriate staffing levels.

"The secretary of state is determined to make sure our prisons are safe and places of rehabilitation and will set out her plans for reform shortly."

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