Skip Content

Howard League blog · 11 Nov 2016

Recruit 2,500 more prison officers? Balderdash

The central plank of the government’s plan to deal with the prison crisis is the recruitment of more officers. They claim they are going to recruit an additional 2,500 front line officers, and this will allow staff to be responsible for six prisoners each, forming relationships and overseeing their journey through the prison system. Balderdash.

Government ministers have been promising that there would be more officers on the landings for the past two years and it has not happened. Repeating the promise does not make it happen.

The previous prisons minister announced repeatedly that 1,700 additional prison officers would be recruited. New figures published this week show that 1,315 prison officers were recruited in the 12 months ending September 2016. The headcount number of prison officers (band 3-4) as of 30 September is 14,607. This compares to 14,689 in June 2016 and 15,080 in September 2015. In 2010 there were 20,000 frontline prison officers. So the prison service still losing numbers despite national, and expensive, recruitment campaigns.

There is a retention problem and so apparently, I hear on the grapevine, that the plan is to recruit 8,000 in the desperate hope that some 2,000 will stay more than a few weeks. That’s an expensive undertaking, costly to the taxpayer and disruptive of people’s lives. Also, it is very bad public relations as the prison service will have inflicted a bad experience on thousands of people who wanted to go into a public service but walk away because they find it intolerable. They will tell people about it.

If the answer to the prison crisis is new staff then at least 5,000 would be needed (and retained) just to get back to the status quo before the swingeing cuts.

In response to a call from the local MP, Emily Thornberry, to close Pentonville prison following a murder, escapes and revelations about appalling conditions, the Ministry of Justice came out with a trite and misleading statement:

“We announced a major overhaul of the prison system last week including 2,500 extra frontline officers. These extra officers and new safety measures will help us crack down on the toxic cocktail of drugs, drones and mobile phones that are flooding our prisons. Our measures will create prisons that are places of safety and reform giving prisoners the education and skills they need to turn their backs on crime for good.”

Even should they manage to recruit and retain 2,500 officers, which as I have said is unlikely, the staff would be spread across all the prisons that are in a similar state to Pentonville. That would give each prison somewhere between 10 and 40 additional officers each, hardly enough to make much difference in a 24/7 service.

If the answer to the prison crisis is new staff, then at least 5,000 would be needed (and retained) just to get back to the status quo before the swingeing cuts. To go further, to have enough properly trained and skilled staff to work in a ratio of one to six, as we are being told is the objective, they would need to recruit many thousands more than that.

This is just fantasy anyway as staff are voting with their feet. They will not stay working in a prison for less than they can earn in a supermarket, in prisons where they face daily violence and vitriol coming from prisoners who are caged in filth and idleness. It’s not just prisoners who are in prison, it is staff too.


  • Trevor says:

    I agree with you Frances.
    And I’ll explain why.
    Judging by the recent reports about Prisoners using drugs and being able to eat food such as steaks which many law abiding working class people struggle to afford,
    gives me the impression that the inmates have more control than the prison officers.
    If decades of Government control has lead to the situation stated above
    then why should the public believe that the solution is to recruit more prison officers?
    It is clear that the prison system needs to be reformed.
    But the Government continues to bury it’s head in the sand and pushes ahead with it’s own ideas which will inevitably fail.
    This is why I stand on the side of Frances and support her call for penal reform.
    But the government ignores that call because of pride.
    They don’t want to face up to the fact that their ideas from past to present have failed to help rehabilitate prisoners.
    In fact the situation has worsened and people are reluctant to become prison officers and for good reason.
    Who would want to earn a living in a place where not even the lives of inmates are safe?

  • tom says:

    Its impossible to recruit the desired number without reducing the standards further, if we have lost more than we have recruited of recent then how on earth does Miss Truss expect to attain over 2,000 new kangas. I went through some old pay slips tuther day and my wage is effectively the same as it was in 2008. One idea would be to fast track ex forces onto the landings, for a start they will already possess many of the qualities/skills needed for the job. I care about my prison, its staff and prisoners, I have known many of the cons for years and have a good working relationship with them but they dont stand a chance on the out in most cases. Many dont want to leave the lifestyle they lead as its all they know, its where they feel safe, its where their mates are and to change all of that takesmuch courage and then SUPPORT which in most cases is not there through cuts to services ( but not M.P’s pay/expenses ) If I and my colleagues are valued, supported,paid a decent wage that we can live on and provide for our families we will perform better, attendance will improve, staff will be happier in their difficult roles, they wont mind exteding for association/class etc, the cons will feel a more positive vibe etc etc etc to cut a long story short our gaols will be safer and more productive, no kanga in his/her right mind wants to deal with agro/self harm/disorder etc etc and all the paperwork that brings they want to runa safe effective constructive regime that brings healing, hope and a reduction to reoffending. People in charge of prisons should be people who have worked in prisons and when I say worked I mean actually worked, not accelerated promotion bods or college grads/politicians, I mean those whom have worked donkeys on the landings and understand how it all works.

  • Concerned PO says:

    I suspect the proposal to raid community probation officer resources is to be included in that figure? They propose all over 12mnths HMP will no longer have a community probation officer until 6 mnths before release. So prisoners will now loose the one stable factor as they get moved between prisons and have to adjust to a new case manager each time.
    Truss is planning to shift prison officers from OM units and put in Probation Officers instead. OM fragmented even more ( and we all know what a disaster TR is).
    I agree, pay prison officers a decent salary with good t&cs and invest in their development, don’t bully!

  • Anon says:

    Serving Officer for 17 years and ex Army looking for work,my time in Northern Ireland 1990/91 was less stressfull than HMP. No one cares ! Noms lie and lie to the public and the press. The service is a shambles and only staff professionalism has kept the roofs on most prisons. Posted anon as the government like to whitch hunt the talkative

  • concerned says:

    Its disgracefull how prison officers have been treat , I have 3 decades of service and have experienced the gradual destruction of a once proud service ,staff assaults ,prisoner assaults all way up , I take home less than I did 7 years ago and the new staff earn even less , how can you retain staff on poor wages , For a pittance compared to the cost of training and losing new staff you could have well paid staff wanting to make a career out of the job like it was before the drastic cuts , I bet if you put the cost of all the voluntary redundancies training new staff and not retaining them and national detatched duty against paying a workforce a decent well deserved wage The governments coffers are way worse off ,Its so sad that no one has been brought to task for this mess , I thought Lizz Truss’s speach at the Torie conference was good until she said that she would keep up the good work of her predesessors ,

    • tom says:

      I’m proud of my 20+ years service, met some great staff and some decent prisoners whom have made wrong choices, many getting out and never coming back but sadly also many for whom prison is an occupational hazzard and a fair few violent types whom it doesn’t matter what you do for them, it just ain’t good enough because its society’s fault. Sadly this Gov like the last one aint got a scooby doo whats going on in their gaols, they bring young screws on with promises of excellent benefits on 8 grand less than officer 1’s and throw them into the shift work, the politics, the now worthless new pension scheme, the violence/threats/intimidation/self harm and then they have to leave the office morning briefing and unlock the landings in short numbers where it gets even worse. Fast track ex forces into the job including the Gurkhas.

  • Perry Humphreys says:

    All the service, (NOMS & MOJ), want is a revolving door policy and that’s what they have got. Bring new recruits in by selling them a dream of a potentially great career, burn them out within 2-3years, they then leave and get replaced. No long term pension obligations etc etc etc. Unfortunately for NOMS, potential recruits are becoming more aware of the lies etc and steering a wide berth toward other more rewarding career paths.

  • Iain Clover says:

    I am a Prison Officer, with 26 years experience. When I joined in July 1990, I was told that something like 1 in 2000 people that applied actually ended up walking the landings.
    Nowadays they can’t afford to reject any applicant as so few complete their year long probationary period, apparently as low as 17%.
    Several years ago, when NOMS first muted creating the new Prison Officer 2 rank on much lower wages than the now closed grade of Prison Officer, I was speaking to a senior manager and voiced my concerns about recruiting at much lower wages, I told him that lower recruitment criteria would lead to a surge of lower paid Staff that were susceptible to corruption … his answer … “We know and are willing to accept that.”
    Senior managers couldn’t give a $#^* for prisons, just as long as the limited pool of Staff keep the prison roof on.

    • Gazza says:

      Iain I joined with you in 1990, we all saw deaths in custody, violence and security breaches when the NOMS board went along this road with benchmarking. They said to the staff and trade unions, go along with this as if you don’t then you will have to experience prison by prison market testing.
      The last time it was like this we had the escapes from Whitemoor and Parkhurst, the Board are shrewd enough to leave the high security estate alone as this would be catastrophic to the organisation at the cost to the rest!

    • Robert Spencer says:

      Dead right. The same was said at my establishment.
      I joined some 36years ago there was if I remember correctly 38000 in custody. This we were told was too high and the objective was to reduce it quickly as it was stretching the staff.
      Also at that time in the YOI I worked. The prisoners were mostly TWOCERS burglars football hooligans and fighters. Todays YOI’s are for the most part drug dealers, gangmembers steeped in violence and with a great feeling of entitlement and not concerned about any sentence.
      I fear that the whole system is on the virge of collapse and it is too late now to put the genie back in the bottle.
      I have always said that due to the abilities of the officers at keeping establishments quiet and ticking over amid the staff and financial and staff reduction meltdown. The staff and service has been ignored.Would I recommend the dervice as a career now? No.

  • Jonathan Rogers says:

    Further to my last post
    The POA and NEC are not strong enough to support staff and are over ruled and ignored by the powers that be.
    I was bullied and intimidated by management for standing up for myself and telling the truth when they wanted me to make a statement I knew to be untrue in a witch hunt against staff.
    When I refused to lie I was intimidate, victimised and treated like dirt.
    I put grievances in and they were lost, ignored and covered up.
    The POA and NEC were not strong enough to support me or fight my corner and instead as a result of this it forced me to leave the job I loved doing.

  • Jonathan Rogers says:

    I used to be a band 3 officer and left the service due to the following reasons:
    Short staff levels
    Poor moral
    Violence, drugs and safety
    Bullying by managers
    Long detached duty with no concerns for family life Poor Pay and conditions

    I loved the Service and it took me a long time to decide to leave. I did not want to leave, but why do a job as dangerous as mine when you can earn the same or more on civil street without the stress, worry and poor working conditions.

    The Prison Service needs to pay staff correctly in line with the job they do and treat them like humans and not animals.
    Bullying and threatening is not the way to keep staff. Support, correct staff to prisoner ratio, safety, punishment for violence to staff etc, decent pay/conditions, and finally respect is how to employ, retain and make the service what it should be with public safety and public support restored.

  • Turk says:

    They could employ 15,000 officers but if they don’t pay them a decent wage for the danger they face they will not stay. I’m a serving officer of well over 25 years experience. I do not nor ever have shirked away from violence and viterol that has been directed at me and my colleagues. However in today’s nightmarish daily duty it is continuous, this week alone from Monday to Wednesday we have restrained 7 bio ent prisoners 3 before 9:30hrs on Monday morning. Our small segregation unit can not handle the amount of prisoners that need to be down their so they are put back on normal location what message does that send? I could relate more but I’d be all day. My real name is withheld for reasons

  • Michael longstaff says:

    Typical of Noms and their lies about numbers!! A prison with 600 prisoners would require 100 officers, or band 3’s to achieve their stated aim of 1 per 6.
    Why join a job in such a mess when they can earn more working in a supermarket with a significant less chance of being assaulted!!

    • Steven Battram says:

      If more screws are recruited, instead of two screws in the tearoom doing nothing there will be four

Leave a Reply to tom Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Join the Howard League

    We are the world's oldest prison charity, bringing people together to advocate for change.

    Join us and make your voice heard
  • Support our work

    We safeguard our independence and do not accept any funding from government.

    Make a donation