The prison service is facing an exodus of staff ahead of a projected increase in the prison population of nearly 25% in the next four years, according to a new report published today by the Prison Reform Trust.
The report, Prison: the facts reveals that more than one in seven (15%) prison officers left the service last year. Of those, half had been in the role for less than three years; and more than a quarter left within the first year.
These latest figures have sparked fears that the service faces significant competing challenges on the horizon—with too few staff and too many prisoners—which are already hampering efforts to provide safe and purposeful prisons following the disruption of the pandemic.
On Thursday this week, prison inspectors revealled that the impact of staffing shortages were already being felt at HMP Woodhill, identifying it as “the single most limiting factor to progress”.
Despite the prison service’s success in attracting people to become prison officers in recent years, its subsequent failure to retain them risks developing into a staffing crisis.
Whilst the government has already pledged £17 million to try and stem the haemorrhage, it remains unclear what impact this will have at a time when the country faces a national labour shortage and upward pressure on wages.
The high level of turnover amongst prison staff in recent years has led to a decline in staff experience, with almost three in 10 (29%) officers having been in their post for less than three years—up from around one in eight (13%) in 2010. Many who joined the service during the pandemic will have had no experience of working in a prison where prisoners aren’t locked in their cells for almost the entire day.
Whilst the country has been recovering from the effects of the pandemic, progress in prisons has been very slow by comparison. As inspectors report this week, it is still common to find prisoners locked up for 22.5 hours a day, and that staff shortages have played a major part in the almost total collapse of work, education and training in prisons.
Meanwhile, prison pandemic recovery is being made all the more challenging with a significant backlog of court cases; new government sentencing legislation; and the recruitment of 20,000 police officers—all of which will increase pressure on prisons.
Commenting, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“These facts and figures point to a perfect storm in prisons. A shortage of staff is seriously undermining prisons’ ability to recover from the pandemic, but, ministers still want to lock more people up for longer. They risk having £4bn worth of new prisons but no staff to run them. At a time when public spending is under intense pressure, indulging this political obsession makes no sense.”