Increasing prison violence leads to rise in officer departures, warns Labour
More prison officers are leaving their jobs after less than a year because of increasing violence in UK jails, Labour has warned.
Official data shows 915 prison officers departed after fewer than 12 months of service in 2018 compared to 61 in 2010.
Shadow justice minister Imran Hussain claimed there is a “real emergency” and called for a “proper strategy” to address problems of violence in the prison system.
But the Prison Service says it is investing an extra £70 million in making jails “more secure and decent” in a bid to encourage more staff to stay on for longer.
Mr Hussain submitted a written question to Justice Secretary David Gauke asking how many officers in bands three to five in each prison currently operated by the Prison and Probation Service have fewer than three years’ experience.
The response was that, in 2018, the total number of prison officers working with fewer than three years’ experience was 9,488.
Mr Hussain also asked how many officers in bands three to five in each prison have left the prison service after less than a year in 2010, and also in 2018 – which led to the response showing the increase from 61 to 915.
He said: “There is a real emergency here – it is beyond a crisis. Violence in prisons and assaults are at record levels. This is the situation.”
Mr Hussain added: “We need a proper way to address the violence and overcrowding in prisons.”
He said prison staff are leaving roles early because of increasing violence, and noted that this loss of experience makes things more difficult for remaining staff to run prisons effectively.
He went on: “There is no silver bullet. We need a proper strategy.”
Solicitor General Lucy Frazer acknowledged the “challenging” circumstances facing many prison officers, and said additional training is being offered to help staff.
Ms Frazer said: “We commend our hard-working prison officers who do a vital job in protecting the public every day, often in challenging and difficult circumstances.
“We want prison officers to stay and progress their careers. We’ve improved induction processes to ease transition into the job, provide care and support for our staff and offer additional training.
“These measures are part of the work we are doing directly with Governors to address local issues and ensure experienced staff and new recruits remain in the service.”
Mark Fairhurst, national chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, called for a review of recruitment and retention in the prison service.
He said simply recruiting more officers doesn’t solve the problem, and leads to more inexperienced officers being put in situations they may not be prepared for.
Mr Fairhurst said: “You simply cannot replace experience. Whilst we welcome the recruitment drive it is inevitable that inexperienced staff will dominate some prisons.
“These staff need guidance from experienced staff which unfortunately no longer happens. Once new staff experience their violent workplace very few stay.
“To combat this we need an increased starting salary with guaranteed yearly pay rises. We need to look at training and we need to offer experienced staff incentives to stay in the job instead of recommend ding zero pay rises for them.
“Until the employer starts to listen to this union nothing will change. Promoting people to middle manager roles with only a few years experience is not the answer. We need to commission a review of recruitment and retention in the prison service.”
The Prison Service says a recruitment drive has led to more staff joining which, in turn, has led to a higher number of leavers.
A spokesman said: “We want prison officers to stay and progress their careers. The huge number of officers we’ve recently recruited inevitably means there are more staff – and more leavers – with less than three years’ experience.
“We are working hard to retain staff, giving staff the biggest pay increase in a decade last year and by providing additional training.
“We’ve also taken action to improve support for new starters, are investing an extra £70 million in making prisons more secure and decent, and are giving officers tools like PAVA pepper spray and body-worn cameras to make their jobs safer.”