20 Oct 2014
Public-sector prison officer numbers cut by 41 per cent
The number of officers at public-sector prisons in England and Wales has been cut by 41 per cent in less than four years, figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Monday 20 October).
Research published by the charity shows that there were only 14,170 officer grade staff working in prisons run by the state at the end of June 2014. There were more than 24,000 at the end of August 2010.
Cuts include 1,375 officer posts that were lost when 15 public-sector prisons were closed during the period.
The drop in officer numbers nationwide has coincided with a deepening prison overcrowding crisis and an alarming rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The prison system is in crisis, and these figures reveal why. While the prison population has grown, officer numbers have been cut without any thought for the consequences. A shortage of governors makes matters even worse, because officers are being taken off the wings and asked to ‘act up’ to fill vacancies. Having made prison officers redundant, the Ministry of Justice is now apparently struggling to recruit. These are desperate times, and ministers are resorting to desperate measures.”
In July 2014, the Howard League warned that prisons were at breaking point as it revealed figures showing officer numbers had been cut in all prisons – public and private – by 30 per cent in three years.
The charity’s findings were supported by the Prison Governors’ Association and the prison officers’ union, the POA, who urged the government to act.
Since then, the damaging impact of staff cuts has been highlighted in a series of inspection reports published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. Safety concerns were raised in reports on Ranby, Glen Parva, Hindley, Isis, Wormwood Scrubs, and Swaleside prisons.
Today’s figures show how staffing levels are getting worse, not better – and how public-sector prisons have borne the brunt of the cuts.
Frances Crook said: “Last week, the outgoing president of the Prison Governors’ Association revealed that officers were being shipped from the north to plug gaps in the south, and being put up in hotels at a cost of £500 per week each. I understand that this arrangement is being built into long-term planning. Nobody knows how much it will cost, so the government is writing itself a blank cheque. As well as being a shameful waste of taxpayers’ money, this approach will only create more disruption in jails. Good relationships between prisoners and staff are key to a well-run prison, and such relationships will be harder to achieve.
“Prison officers must respond to emergencies, and it is potentially disastrous to ask lowly-paid staff, demoralised and far from home, to work in different, unfamiliar prisons each week. Established officers, already working under great pressure, will have to spend time explaining where things are and how things work. The only solution to this crisis is one that successive governments have ducked. There are many people in custody who have not committed serious or violent offences and it is time for a hard look at who we send to prison and why. We must reduce the prison population.”
Prison officer numbers
|Prison||Population (Jun-14)||Prison officers||% change|
|East of England|
|North Sea Camp||379||56||30||-46%|
|East Sutton Park||82||22||10||-55%|
|Isle of Wight||1,128||473||230||-51%|
|Erlestoke and Shepton Mallet**||488||182||90||-51%|
|Yorkshire and the Humber|
*Downview is empty as it is being re-roled from a women’s prison to a men’s prison
Notes to editors
- The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the UK. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
- Figures were obtained from Ministry of Justice statistical releases.
- Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons can be downloaded here.
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