Thursday, 3 November 2016

Prison Staffing Crisis 2

We are all expecting Liz Truss to make a statement later today about the state of the prison staffing crisis - a crisis brought about by the government of course. Here is Alan Travis writing in the Guardian:-

Prisons in England and Wales get boost of 2,500 new staff to tackle violence

An extra 2,500 frontline prison staff are to be recruited to tackle soaring levels of gang violence, drug abuse and attacks on staff and inmates inside prisons across England and Wales, the justice secretary is to announce.The new officers to be promised by Liz Truss are equivalent to a 15% boost in prison officer numbers at a cost of £104m a year and represent a key part of a white paper reform programme designed to stabilise an under-pressure prison system and cut reoffending rates.

Introducing the plans, the minister will say that extra staff “will help us crack down on the toxic cocktail of drugs, drones and mobile phones that are flooding our prisons, imperilling the safety of staff and offenders and thwarting reform”. The announcement follows an emergency £14m funding package last month to recruit 400 extra officers in 10 of the most challenging prisons in the country. This represents a significant boost to the 18,000 frontline prison officers and will go some way to restoring the 30% cut in staffing that had taken place since 2010 as part of the Cameron government’s austerity plan.

The latest prison safety figures show that assaults on staff and inmates had risen 40% in the past year to 65 a day, while there are record levels of prison suicides and self-harm – although previous ministers did not accept there was a link between prison funding and people killing themselves inside jail. Prisoner numbers, at 85,000, are also at record levels.

A wider package of safety measures proposed also includes mandatory drug testing of all offenders on entry and exit from prison, and the creation of “no-fly zones” over jails to tackle the new problem of drones dropping drugs and other contraband over the prison wall. The white paper is not expected to include details of how these no-fly zones will be enforced but the prisons minister Sam Gyimah told MPs on Tuesday that he was keeping a close eye on the Netherlands, where eagles are being used to stop drones.

Underlining the pressures on the prison service, Truss agreed to meet representatives of the Prison Officers Association (POA) earlier on Wednesday and to start urgent talks on health and safety inside prisons and serious problems in the recruitment and retention of staff. The POA had threatened to hold emergency meetings outside every jail before the morning prisoner unlocking in protest against the levels of violence behind bars, but suspended its action to allow talks with Truss to take place.

The white paper will include plans for a new “supersized” prison for 1,000-plus inmates to be built at Wellingborough, new powers for governors, testing of offenders’ levels of English and maths, a system of prison league tables and a new duty on the justice secretary to take over failing prisons.

“It is absolutely right that prisons punish people who commit serious crimes by depriving them of their most fundamental right: liberty,” Truss is expected to say. “However, our reoffending rates have remained too high for too long. So prisons need to be more than places of containment – they must be places of discipline, hard work and self improvement. They must be places where offenders get off drugs and get the education and skills they need to find work and turn their back on crime for good.”

Earlier the head of the POA, Mike Rolfe, said jails have been engulfed by a “bloodbath”. He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “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. 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.”

Publication of the prison safety and reform white paper follows the pledge made by David Cameron in February when he was prime minister to undertake a radical overhaul of the prison system. Truss’s reform plans come after a pause during which detailed work on the radical ideas of her predecessor, Michael Gove, was undertaken to ensure they were deliverable.

Individual prison governors will be given more powers over education, work and health budgets, alongside new measures to hold them to account on an agreed set of standards that will include publishing prisons’ annual performance in league tables for the first time. These will include the results of the new mandatory drug-testing regime and the English and maths testing of offenders so that progress made inside particular jails can be measured. Justice ministry officials say that if a prison is shown to be failing by the chief inspector of prisons then the justice secretary will be under a new legal duty to intervene.

One of Gove’s ideas to be implemented in the reform package is the government’s £1.3bn “new for old” programme of closing dilapidated Victorian inner-city prisons and replacing them with 10,000 modern prison places by 2020. The first site to be earmarked for potential redevelopment under the programme is Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, which formerly housed a youth detention centre, then an adult training prison, before closing in 2012.

The chair of the parole board and former chief inspector of prisons, Prof Nick Hardwick, said last month that violence inside jails was now at its worst ever level. He described the recent murder in Pentonville prison as “the most extreme example of the decline in safety” that he and others have warned about for years.


Here's Rob Allen yet again stating the obvious that trying to increase prison staff will not solve the problem alone - action must be taken to reduce the prison population. The trouble is the government have done an excellent job of wrecking the probation service as well:-

Forget about the price tag? What to look for in the Prisons White Paper

Today’s meeting between Liz Truss and the POA will have come too late to influence the contents of tomorrow’s White Paper, but prison staff and those of us who care about prisons will be looking at two key elements if we are to have confidence in the government’s plans for the beleaguered service

First will it include a costed plan for properly staffing jails? It’s quite clear that in the Coalition years, faced with wholesale privatisation, public prisons accepted staffing levels in many cases too low to be safe, let alone achieve the lofty objectives subsequently promised by Messrs Gove and Cameron. While Mr Grayling is the main villain of the piece as the author of the Faustian pact forced on the service, Ken Clarke bears some blame for reaching too stringent a financial settlement with the Treasury back in 2010. When his plans for reducing prison numbers crashed and burned, the funds were not adjusted upwards to cope with new projections.

Six years on, the bottom line is that the benchmarking exercise which helped take a billion pounds out of the NOMS budget needs redoing and the resources found to fund what results from it. Just as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) were asked after the Mid Staffs Hospital disaster to look at safe staffing for nursing in adult inpatient wards in acute hospitals, an independent body should do so in respect of prisons. With an advisory board comprising personnel at all levels and ex prisoners, it should look seriously at how many staff are required to meet the expectations set by Prison Inspectors and the various recommendations made by them and the Ombudsman. Benchmarking Mark Two should be completed by Easter.

An alternative would be to return to 2010 frontline staffing levels - something recommended by last week's admirable RSA report. But whether Ms Truss has persuaded the Treasury to provide much in the way of additional cash must be doubtful. Her Permanent Secretary told the Justice Committee a fortnight ago that “the subject we talk about most in my executive committee is improving our finances and bearing down on the gap between our allocation and our projected spend.”

This means the White Paper must propose ways of reducing the prison population, the second and more controversial matter. I have argued that replacing short sentences with community supervision may be desirable but will not provide enough relief. In addition the Ministry will need to look to halt the upward drift in sentence lengths. A report I’ve written for Transform Justice, to be published next month, will argue that the time is right to revisit the aims and purposes of the Sentencing Council in order to reduce the extent to which courts impose imprisonment and the lengths of its terms. Ms Truss previously argued for longer sentences and tougher prisons but wherever she once wanted the ship of penal policy to go, she surely knows now her job is to keep it afloat.

Without manageable prisoner numbers and enough staff, the governor autonomy agenda – now known as empowerment – will not get prison reform very far. Nor will the £1.3 billion capital programme for 9 new prisons which are supposed to be completed by 2020. Expect some re-profiling of this. If Treasury rules allow, some of the funds could be used to boost the budgets for running existing prisons (and the new prison at Wrexham) more safely and for pump priming measures to divert low risk offenders from prison. This must be the priority for Ms Truss over the lifetime of the parliament rather than the grandiose schemes of her predecessor.


  1. Would someone from the howard league be prepared to submit their views to this blog? Would be good if their remit could expand to community provision for offenders and not just prison? They are doing great work.

  2. The current Rehabilitation Revolution is so new, that the governments retheroic is that CRCs are still bedding in. I'm surprised that no one I've seen speaking about the present crisis has alluded to this. I'm just as surprised that Grayling has hardly been mentioned at all.
    I've just watched Liz Truss being interviewed on BBC, and thought she looked like a rabbit in the headlights. What I did find very interesting though was her reference many times to the unacceptable level of reoffending rates. The figure given at justice questions this week was said to be 'roughly 30%', Liz Truss this morning spoke of a'over 50%' reoffending rate. Wonder what they really are, and if that's the next big failing of TR?

  3. "You spin me right round" - the UK govt are executing unbelievably complex contortions, beyond the ability of any olympic gymnast. Since 2010, admittedly picking up the baton handed over by Blue Labour, the Tories (for it was always them) have decimated the prisons & probation structures in England & Wales. In Grayling's hands the prisons were emptied of 5000 experienced staff, while probation was ripped apart & fed to the global hyenas.

    Now they've fitted a Truss to hold it all together whilst claiming its the "biggest ever restructure of prisons and the rehabilitation of prisoners".

    The Last Leg (C4 telly) had a button they could push in such a situation: BULLSHIT!!

  4. Truss is getting a roasting on radio 4! Increase prison officers by 2,500 but cut staff by 40% in some CRC's including experienced po/ pso's! It doesn't make sense if the objective is to reduce re-offending does it! We need a joined up system. Now the public know prisons are in crisis they need to know that community rehabilitation services are also in crisis.

    1. Really anon 8:24? I thought she was let off extremely lightly and was allowed to mouth a lot of sound bites with little or no serious challenge from JH. Extremely short on detail; just lots of sweeping intentions. The only positive thing I heard was the plan to introduce (reintroduce?) Personal Officers for all prisoners. I await this development with interest.

  5. BBC website in Oct 2014 - two whole earth years ago... but its like it never happened. This is why History is an important subject, kids!!

    "The prison system in England and Wales is "in crisis", according to the Howard League for Penal Reform. The charity claims the number of prison officers has been cut by 41% during the Government's time in office.
    Howard League chief executive Frances Crook said: "These are desperate times and ministers are resorting to desperate measures."

    But the Ministry of Justice disputed the figures, saying the reduction in officer numbers was actually 27%. Analysis of official figures showed there were 14,170 officer-grade staff in state-run prisons at the end of June 2014 while there had been more than 24,000 at the end of August 2010, the charity said. The cuts include 1,375 officer posts lost with the closure of 15 public-sector prisons.

    A Ministry of Justice source said the Howard League was not comparing like with like and that the period had seen a fall in prison officers from 24,580 to 17,971.

    Ms Crook 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."

    But Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said: "It's beyond me why the Howard League go out of their way to deliberately mislead the public on the state of our prisons. They are less overcrowded than they have been for a decade and they are well-run, due to the dedication of the hard-working staff in them. Consistently trying to claim otherwise helps no one."

  6. Somebody commented the other day about they way people in powerful positions such as Truss respond to crucial and very serious questions, with empty hollow buss words! Fine example from the Truss this morning!

  7. Liz Truss I'm afraid is clueless. I've just heard her say on Sky news that's it's "ultimately down to the parole board to decide who's fit for release or not".
    Isn't one of the biggest problems with the CJS whether it's prisons probation crime or rehabilitation, the shaping and policies that get developed as solutions to the problems are designed by people who have no experience in those areas, and probably no great interest in those areas either.
    It's not really Liz Truss's fault that the whole CJS is on its knees, but nor is she the right person to be charged with sorting it out, especially when she sees the solution to everything as tackling 'drones, phones, and drugs.'
    They're all problems yes, but focusing just on those issues is like decorating a house and ignoring the fact it's got structural damage.


  8. Unfortunately no matter what Truss says in her white paper or in parliament about how she's going to solve this current crisis I really doubt anything will actually happen that would actually solve the current disaster. By all means hire more staff but if all you're going to hire is a bunch of clueless 18 yr olds at minimum wage you're not going to get the staff you need to actually bring prisons back into safe running. This is an ideal time to completely reimaging what you want the prison estate to be and turn it into something that works like in Holland or Scandinavia. But we're saddled with a completely clueless justice secretary who fixates on unimportant things like cheese and pork rather than the important stuff and a prisons minister clearly out of his depth from his turns in the house. It's the blind leading the really stupid which does not bode at all well. I doubt anything will really change and prisoners will continue to due because the government considers them expendable. Pretty sure prison staff will start dying soon - it's only a matter of time - and then the entire POA will walk out and the system will crumble completely. Truss will still be burbling about drones at that point. Fiddling while Rome burns comes to mind

  9. The Howard League for Penal Reform has today (Thursday 3 November) issued a statement ahead of an announcement on prison reform by the Secretary of State for Justice, Elizabeth Truss.

    Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The proposals being announced today appear to offer a mixed picture for those hopeful that we might see real change in our violent and failing prisons.

    “There are welcome commitments on accountability and improving outcomes, although there is a danger efforts to measure performance will distract from tackling the daily carnage we are seeing in prisons across the country. The Howard League will be responding in detail on how to avoid this and focus efforts on what is actually going to work.

    “It is also welcome to see the government reversing previous decisions on cuts to staffing, although it remains to be seen how quickly things improve on the prison landings. The levels of deaths and violence are such that it will take more than just bodies in uniform to turn things around.
    “What we desperately need is a real commitment to trying to lower prison numbers and reduce overcrowding. Instead, the government seems set on repeating the mistakes of previous administrations in seeking to build its way out of the problem. It has never worked before and will not work today.”

  10. Check this out

    1. What a coincidence! The prisoner's called nick as well!
      Nick in the nick calling Nick...

  11. Extra 2,500 Prison Officers welcome. But ... will take time and set against reduction of 9,500 since 2011. Feel country needs to decide that expenditure on public services, and therefore tax increases, are the welcome price for a more civilised, equitable and ultimately prosperous society. Granted a smaller prison population and better use of alternatives can reduce costs. I imagine this thinking must resonate across various public sectors, for example NHS and Social Care as one example where investment and joint working provides something we can all and likely will value at some point in our lives.

  12. How lucky must Liz Truss feel today? She woke up thinking she had a thousand interviews to do, and then the front pages were taken over by the court ruling on Brexit!
    But as the old man in the pub says, "Tomorrow never forgets today."
    The POA are playing hardball, and rightly so, it's a short respite Liz, but you still have to come home with the bacon!


  13. Probation Officer3 November 2016 at 19:38

    As was said in response just now on the BBC news. Theses officers won't be all in place until 2018. The problem is that salary, terms and conditions have been tampered with and because of the violence in prisons staff are leaving faster than they're being recruited.

    The POA are rightly not buying this rubbish. Liz Truss hasn't really got a clue which is why she's trying to grab headlines by talking about 'no fly zones' over prisons. As usual too, no mention of the probation service even though this is key to rehabilitation, resettlement and reducing reoffending.

  14. Why all the fuss? When woolly liberals kicked off in 2014 Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said: "It's beyond me why the Howard League go out of their way to deliberately mislead the public on the state of our prisons. They are less overcrowded than they have been for a decade".

    Grayling: "I've got a gut feeling" - maybe it was an intestinal tapeworm after all.

    Boris Johnson pre-referendum: "There's £400M a week for the NHS if you vote brexit"... and post-referendum? "Erm, listen Putin, we're jolly cross with this Syria situation, so, um, could you, perhaps, um, no? Oh, okay."

    PM May: "brexit means brexit" except when its unconstitutional & outwith the powers of royal prerogative, and then it means the EU referendum was an expensive vanity project gone tits-up.

    And Donald J Trump WILL be sitting in the Whitehouse next week.

    Proof that we should listen to our esteemed politicians... then put on our kevlar pyjamas, arm ourselves, gather our supplies, retreat to our underground shelters and wait for the endgame as Trump pays Putin for his help in winning the presidential elevtion by gifting him the UK.

    1. By and large I agree, except President Trump won't be sworn in until 2017.

      Unless, of course, you mean that Hillary wins and Trump leads an armed revolt and occupies the White House - which seems just as probable at the moment.

  15. Apparently, in one CRC staff have started working their hours and stopped moaning about how much they have to do. Surprisingly, there has been a huge increase in the amount of offender focused work.

    Anyone found moaning is now being used in a new environmental experiment to harness the hot air and convert it into a new sustainable energy source.