HM Prison and Probation Service was forced to press pause on the implementation of a new staffing model designed to help reduce rates of suicide, self-harm and violence because of an unexpected hike in inmate numbers last summer, its annual report has conceded.
Chief executive Michael Spurr said it was regrettable that progress on implementing the service’s new Offender Management in Custody model, which increases staffing on residential units and allocates a “key worker” to every prisoner had to be delayed “due to a sharp, unanticipated rise in the prison population”.
In HMPPS’ annual report, Spurr conceded that the last few years had been “particularly challenging” the prison and probation services, and that the last 12 months had brought “significant operational issues, particularly around safety and living conditions in prisons and in the quality of community supervision for many low and medium risk offenders”.
The report said that in addition to the rise in prisoner numbers, rising levels of vandalism had “further compounded” pressure on the prisons system, increasingly forcing HMPPS to “delay planned maintenance works, re-open accommodation and delay closures”.
HMP Bedford was one prison brought back into use to deal with the increase in need for secure accommodation, while HMP Rochester and HMP Hindley saw their closures deferred.
“Although demand has decreased so far during 2018, the underlying trend remains upwards,” the report said.
It said projected prisoner levels were due to hit 88,000 in 2021-22, around 5,000 higher than the current level, according to statistics published last week.
In addition to overcrowding and rising violence levels – attacks on prison officers were up 23% in the year to December, HMPPS had to deal with January’s collapse of construction and outsourcing giant Carillion, which provided facilities management services for 52 prisons, and the failure of most Community Rehabilitation Companies to meet their reoffending-reduction targets.
The report also detailed a £35m underspend – which it described as representing 1% on its annual resource budget “attributable to delays in recruitment and contractual settlements with CRCs”. However it said the underspend was offset by increased expenditure across the facilities management contract and incremental recruitment costs for delivering Prison Officer Entry Level Training programme.
Positive news in the report included “significant inroads” in prison officer recruitment, which saw HMPPS hit its target of hiring 2,500 additional staff more than nine months ahead of a target set by then-justice secretary Liz Truss in 2015.
However it admitted that the retention of staff was “still an issue in a number of locations … for reasons which are complex and vary from prison to prison”.
The report said: “We are taking action to support those prisons with the highest attrition and have developed a toolkit and targeted resources to support sites where there are particular challenges.”
It gave Spurr’s salary range as £145,000-£150,000, some £10,000 ahead of the bracket attributed to executive director of prisons Phil Copple.