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.