With prison protests, strikes, suicides, escapes, drug abuse, violence, and riots dominating the headlines, a recent announcement from the justice secretary on a £104 million recruitment drive is likely to come as welcome news to prison workers.
But is this drive really the answer to the UK’s prison problems or is it merely a temporary plaster on a much deeper-rooted injury?
“Unacceptable Levels of Violence”
In response to what justice secretary Liz Truss called unacceptable levels of violence in UK prisons, the department will oversee a drive to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers – including 400 extra staff for the country’s top ten most challenging prisons. New measures are also expected to be put in place to tackle difficulties in recruiting and the retention of staff in 20% of prison areas, giving governors the option to hire directly from their local employment markets.
However, while the new numbers will mark a 15% increase in prison staffing numbers, this does little to make up for the 30% cuts to staff that were undertaken in 2010. And despite a 40% rise in reports of assaults on both staff and inmates, alongside record numbers of suicides and self-harm, the justice secretary still refuses to admit to a prison system in crisis.
A Loss of Morale
Extra staff in prisons will no doubt be welcome but many in the sector are querying whether it will really prove to be the solution to more underlying problems.
“It’s a bloodbath in prisons at this minute in time. Staff are absolutely on their knees, lost all morale, all motivation. Prisoners are scared. They want prison officers to be in charge, and the prison officers feel incapable to do that,” said the head of the Prison Officers Association, Mike Rolfe.
“Low staffing numbers, people leaving the job in droves, it’s a real bad mix, and it’s dangerous for everyone, staff and prisoners alike.”
The worry is that a rushed recruitment drive to hire thousands of new, inexperienced and unqualified staff will simply bolster numbers rather than provide the experience necessary to make real and lasting changes to our prison system.
A far better solution would be to spend more money on hiring experienced, highly-skilled, and highly-trained locum prison officers; perhaps a slightly more expensive route, but one that would require fewer staff in the long run and provide a far better rate of improvement.
If you’re an experienced prison officer interested in working in a locum capacity, please get in touch with our specialist consultants today.