Friday, 2 September 2016

Prison Staffing Crisis

It appears that Chris Grayling was so successful in reducing the number of prison officers and making the environment so toxic, nobody seems interested in working there any more. This from the recent Howard League press release:-

Prison officer numbers fall again as major recruitment drive fails

The number of frontline officers working in public-sector prisons has fallen over the last year, despite Ministry of Justice plans to recruit additional staff to help respond to the highest levels of violence, suicide and self-injury since recording practices began.

Statistics seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform show that there were 14,689 frontline officers (full time equivalent) in England and Wales in June 2016, down from 15,110 a year earlier. This leaves prisons with barely more frontline staff than the lows of 2014, which prompted the Ministry of Justice to embark on a major recruitment exercise.

Almost every region has seen frontline officer numbers fall in the last year, with the most significant reductions recorded in the East Midlands (8 per cent), the South West (7 per cent) and the West Midlands (7 per cent).

Previous research by the Howard League has shown how prison officer numbers were cut by 30 per cent between 2010 and 2013. Today’s figures indicate that, in spite of the government’s recruitment drive, people remain unwilling to work in prisons under present conditions.

While officer numbers fell between June 2013 and June 2016, the prison population across England and Wales rose from 83,796 to 85,130 – putting more pressure on a failing system.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: 

“Reducing resources while allowing the prison population to grow unchecked has created a toxic cocktail of violence, death and human misery. These figures show how reductions in staffing and problems in recruiting and retaining new staff are feeding the problems behind bars. The vast majority of those sent to prison will be released back to the community and so it matters to all of us what happens to people when they are sent to prison. Throwing someone into a raging torrent of violence, drugs and despair is not going to help that person steer away from crime. On the contrary, it will feed more crime and create yet more pressure on the failing prisons. The Ministry of Justice can look again at its recruitment policies but only wide-ranging reforms, which include a serious attempt at reducing prison numbers, will move us away from institutions that shame the nation.”
As the prison population has grown and frontline officer numbers have fallen, safety in jails has deteriorated significantly. Ministry of Justice statistics released last month showed that 321 people died in prison custody during the year to the end of June 2016 – an increase of 30 per cent on the previous 12 months. They included 105 people who are thought to have taken their own lives.

Reported incidents of self-harm in prisons have risen by 27 per cent in a year. There were 34,586 reported incidents in the 12 months to the end of March 2016 – one every 15 minutes. The number of assaults on prison staff has increased by 40 per cent. There were 5,423 incidents during the 12 months to the end of March 2016 – at a rate of almost 15 per day.


What the figures mean for prisons in the north east, as reported on the Chronicle website:- 

Drop in North East prison officer numbers is putting 'lives at risk' it is claimed

Lives are being put at risk due to the decreasing numbers of frontline public-sector prison officers in the North East, it has been claimed. A representative of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has also labelled the situation “critical” and has described it as a “constant state of crisis management” after figures were released showing that frontline officers numbers had decreased once again over the past year.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has collected Ministry of Justice figures which show that there are now just 1,000 full-time prison officers in the North East’s six public-sector prisons as of June 2016, down from 1,030 a year previously. Five of the six prisons in the North East have seen a reduction in their staff levels over the past year. Only Low Newton in Durham saw an increase in prison-officer numbers in the last 12 months, from 100 to 116.

And this is in spite of a Government plan, launched in 2014, which aimed to increase recruitment into the service in a bid to respond to the highest levels of violence, suicide and self-injury recorded in prisons since statistics were collated.

Prison-officer numbers are now barely above the low of 2014, when staff levels had been cut by 30% over the preceding three years. And Terry Fullerton - the POA National Executive representative for the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside - believes the decreasing numbers are dangerous to staff and inmates alike.

He said: “The marked reduction in prison-officer levels puts lives at risk - both those of the inmates and of the prison officers themselves. It is no coincidence that violence inside prisons has risen at the same time as staff numbers have been cuts. Murders inside prisons are at a level not seen in more than a decade. The situation is critical. We are essentially in a constant state of crisis management. I’ve worked in the industry for almost three decades, I’ve never seen resources stretched this thin before.”

As of June 2016, there were 103 prison officers at Deerbolt, County Durham, down from 110 in June last year. At Durham prison there were 159 officers, down one on 2015; at Frankland, County Durham there were 407, down from 420; at Holme House, County Durham numbers had fallen by 12 to 178 and at Kirklevington Grange, North Yorkshire there were 37 officers, down from 50.

The trend is not just specific to the North East, however, with the number of public-sector officers falling from 15,110 to 14,689 nationwide from the year to June 2016. At the same time, overall prison population has risen from 83,796 in June 2013 to 85,130 in June 2016.

Across Britain, 321 people died in prison custody during the year to the end of June 2016 - including 105 cases of suspected suicide - a staggering 30% increase on the previous 12 months. There were five cases of suicide in North-East prisons in 2015 alone, while Michelle Barnes is suspected of killing herself at Low Newton Prison in February. Reported self-harm cases also rose 27%, with 34,586 in the year up to March 2016.

What’s more, assaults on prison staff were also up 40% - with an average of 15 per day up to March 2016, and a total of 5,423 altogether. And Mr Fullerton believes such statistics are deterring potential recruits from joining the prison service.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, the figures of increased violence from inmates put potential recruits off too,” Mr Fullerton added. Not only are prison officers leaving in their droves, but nobody else wants to join anyway.”

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League, has also criticised the Ministry of Justice for failing to keep prison-officer numbers high.

“Reducing resources while allowing the prison population to grow unchecked has created a toxic cocktail of violence, death and human misery,” Mr Neilson said. These figures show how reductions in staffing and problems in recruiting and retaining new staff are feeding the problems behind bars. Throwing someone into a raging torrent of violence, drugs and despair is not going to help that person steer away from crime. On the contrary, it will feed more crime and create yet more pressure on the failing prisons.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Safe prisons are fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system. Our dedicated prison staff, who support tens of thousands of prisoners every day, are vital to the safe running of our prisons. We have recruited 2,900 staff over the last 12 months and are taking significant action to make sure we have appropriate staffing levels. The Secretary of State is determined to make sure our prisons are safe and places of rehabilitation and will set out her plans for reform shortly.”


  1. 30% increase in deaths in prison, 27% increase in self harm & 40% increase in assaults on prison staff. Those are impressive statistics. Well done Chris Grayling. Well done Michael Gove. Well done David Cameron. Between the three of them they've presided over a grotesque achievement in our prisons. Let's hope they are aware of the impact they have had, of the lives lost or irrepairably changed as a result.

  2. Why oh why does anyone keep giving Grayling jobs? The man is a complete and total waste of space as a human being and clearly as stupid as heck as he messes up everything he does. The only way the government is ever going to deal with the problem is to go back to complete basics and reinvent the system from the ground up along the lines of the Scandanavian system where being a prison officer is a well paid, well trained career and keeping prison numbers down to 1970's numbers and making prisons more like the Scandi model in terms of rehabilitation. As for Gove, Grayling and Cameron, I doubt they give the current crisis a moment's thought or that if they do they even care about the suffering they have inflicted on both prisons and prison officers. Mind you governors also have a part to play in redesigning things in their prisons to make them work more effectively. Every governor I've ever met has been an idiot. Not as bad as Grayling but definitely not someone you'd want in charge of anything let alone anything as complex as a prison: to wit the infamous Helga Swidenbank now laying waste to London CRC

    1. I don't think every governor I've ever met could be called an idiot, I've met quite a few too, and some of them thoroughly decent people and very committed to doing the best they can.
      However, as with probation, many shop floor staff have been been allowed to fast track into managerial positions, meaning someone can go from their first day on the landings to governor grade in just a few years. Obviously that means they're being specifically trained for the roll of governor, and learning the job in the classroom rather then an apprenticeship on the coal face, and that does bring problems.
      The current crisis however is solely created by government, and yes, Grayling has played a massive part in its creation with uninformed and unintelligent reforms. But Osbornes Whitehall cuts should also get a mention.
      The introduction of local recruitment some time ago should also get a mention, where you have staff locking up prisoners that live on the same housing estate or using the same gyms and pubs as each other.

      The Secretary of State is determined to make sure our prisons are safe and places of rehabilitation and will set out her plans for reform shortly.”

      It will be interesting to see just what those reforms are. Both the rethoric and the reality because to me the criminal justice system, particularly prisons, looks increasingly like an old bicycle tyre that's been patched too many times, and just ready to blow. It can't be patched anymore, it's ready to blow.
      Prisons need more staff desperately, but recruitment should not just be about numbers. It should be a service career and not just a job. You can always get a better job, but if you've chosen a career, then people tend to stick at it.


  3. I don't feel I should be recalling people to prison anymore, it sounds too dangerous for them. Should we not all refuse to recall people? Napo?

  4. The MOJ statement makes my blood boil. No acknowledgement of the mess Govt created; in fact no actual acknowledgement of the mess per se - just more of the smooth spin, telling us what we know (safe prisons fundamental to proper functioning cjs etc etc). The studied unwillingness to admit anything that has gone before was a mistake is breathtaking in its arrogance. Spin, spin, spin - it's all I hear every day in my CRC and I am sick of it.
    So if prison officers strike , they'll have my support (as will the junior drs, actually).

    1. It's easier to blame the mess on psycho_active drug misuse, rather the psyco_misuse and inactive ministerial policy.
      Isn't the first step in dealing with a problem the recognition that you actually have one?

    2. I'm wondering just what qualifies our current Justice Secretary to dictate penal reform and CJ Services change any more so then what qualified Chris Grayling when he held the office?

    3. "Safe prisons fundamental to functioning of CJS..... Etc. Must be the official response they're made to give.

    4. An inquest jury has said a prisoner who took his own life was not shown enough compassion by staff at the jail.

      The jury at Suffolk coroner’s court found that David Smith, 38, killed himself at Highpoint prison in Newmarket, Suffolk, in May 2014. He was serving three and a half years for drug offences.

      The jury heard that Smith was transferred from Chelmsford prison to Highpoint on 23 May 2014. On arrival, he asked to speak to a listener – prisoners trained by the Samaritans – but none were available.

      He asked to call the Samaritans helpline, but the phone in the induction unit was missing. Smith attempted to hang himself that evening and died in hospital the following day. He had a history of depression and self-harm. His was the third of four self-inflicted deaths at Highpoint in 18 months.

      The jury was told that staff failed to activate the prison’s emergency code system, which would have triggered an automatic call for an ambulance. The driver of the ambulance that eventually responded said it took him 12 minutes to reach the cell after he arrived at the prison. He said the prison officer who guided him “ambled along” in front of his vehicle.

      The jury found Highpoint’s failings included: lack of compassion for prisoners, lack of training of officers, insufficient staff on duty, failure to check logbooks, failure to earlier open a suicide and self-harm procedure and then implement that procedure.

      Smith’s parents, Julie and Tony, said their son should still be alive: “David was calling for help, but no one helped him. If they had done their jobs properly he would still be here today.”

      Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, said the jury’s findings encapsulated the crisis within the prison system.

      “HMP Highpoint is not learning from its own failures, or improving the care and support provided to prisoners. The failures identified by this inquest must be responded to by the prisons minister, Sam Gyimah,” she said.

      Sara Lomri, of Bindmans solicitors, who represented the family, said this was the third of four linked inquests arising from the deaths of four young men at Highpoint.

      “It is vital that lessons are learned by the management of the prison and steps taken to ensure that the failings identified, by this and the other three inquests, are comprehensively addressed to ensure further deaths are avoided,” she said.

      A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our sympathies are with David Smith’s family and friends. We have already taken action and accepted all the recommendations following the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s investigation. We will now carefully consider the inquest findings to help ensure such incidents are not repeated.

      “Safety in prisons is fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system and a vital part of our reform plans.”

  5. How show our support with the strikers? Walk out with them? Every word written on this blog makes me question what my action could be in response to what I read here, and what I experience daily at work. If I hear prisons are dangerous for inmates and staff, I can condemn till I am blue in the face, but what action to adopt as response? If I hear and read lots of spin every day at work I must then "counter-spin", must counter by speaking the truth of what is happening, question what I'm told, ask the spinners not to pretend, not to lie, not to insult my intelligence. And I do. B4B in London CRC is not to "help staff". Oasys ISPs within 10 days is not to improve standards, the risk assessments are not to assess risks. IOM is no longer workable in the London CRC as far as probation is concerned, though we are meant to pretend if is. When I speak out in team meetings against the spin even the SPO agrees. Accepting lies when we know we are being lied to makes me feel like I no longer know what is true. I have to say what I know to be true. How shall I meet the forthcoming inspection later this month? The effort when there is inspection is to sweep and tidy what is being looked at. And to conceal what you don't want the inspector to see. If I am let anywhere near an inspector I will be inviting him / her to understand the context in which I am working. I will point to all the other cases where things have not been done which should have been done. I will show the inspector how I choose time and again to spend time with the service user , applications for housing, advocacy, liaison with health care, rather than breaches, warning letters, recalls, perfectionist sentence planning etc. I am finding I can't spend time making progress on cases and also oil the bureaucracy. I have to choose.

  6. Annon 10:13
    Maybe it would be a better idea instead of reshuffling cabinet ministers to reshuffle prisoner governors, probation chefs, police chiefs etc, giving each some perception of the difficulties inherent to each individual service?
    At least then, reforms would be informed by some sort of all round experience, instead of by someone with no real knowledge of how the system needs to work.
    Just a thought!