Prisons in parliament

Recruitment to be at heart of reform says justice secretary 

The new justice secretary set out her vision for reform at the conservative party conference last week, explaining that old prisons would continue to be replaced and a recruitment drive would help make prisons safer.

“We are going to invest £1.3bn in sweeping away our decaying Victorian jails and putting in place new modern prisons” said Liz Truss, justice secretary.

Truss’s reforms will also include greater autonomy for governors over budgets and a dedicated officer for each prisoner to help them break the cycle of reoffending.

Staff retention 

The justice secretary acknowledged the issue of staff retention across the prison estate, saying that in order to facilitate reform, prisons need to be places of safety.

“All too often they suffer abuse, intimidation and violence, fuelled by the rise in dangerous new psychoactive drugs.  In the last year there were 5,423 attacks on prison officers. That’s almost 15 a day.”

Truss said that to make prisons safer, the government will drive recruitment of prison officers in the most violent prisons.

“We will be investing £14m to provide more than 400 extra staff in prisons that have seen sharp rises in violence in recent years.”

Not far enough

400 additional staff however, will do little to redress declining numbers of prison officers. In June this year there were 14,689 frontline officers in England and Wales, down from 15,110 last year and 17,190 in 2013.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said declining staff numbers is perpetuating violence in prisons.

“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.”

Truss announced that the Ministry of Justice would be launching a campaign to increase the number of former armed forces personnel becoming prison officers.

“Who better to instill the virtues of discipline? They will help our prison officers lead the change” she said.

There will be a White Paper setting out a more detailed programme of reform in coming weeks. To read Liz Truss’ full speech click here.

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