Truss: Extra 2,100 prison officers to be deployed

Justice Secretary Liz Truss and HMP Brixton custodial manager Wendy-Fisher McfarlaneImage copyright

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Liz Truss, left, plans to give governors more say over how their prisons are run

An extra 2,100 prison officers are to be recruited to ease staffing shortages in jails in England and Wales, Justice Secretary Liz Truss will say later.

Unveiling a White Paper, Ms Truss will say the new recruits should help to reduce attacks on staff and prisoners.

She will detail plans for more autonomy for governors and ensure drug tests for inmates when they enter and leave jail.

But Labour said the speech would be a “blatant PR stunt” unless comprehensive plans to address staff cuts were made.

Since 2010, prison officer numbers have fallen from about 25,000 to 18,000.

At the same time, the number of prisoners has risen slightly.

The extra officers, costing £100m a year, will not restore staffing to the levels seen before 2010.

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Ms Truss told BBC Breakfast the extra staff “will enable us to have a dedicated officer for each six prisoners”.

“That’s the ratio that we can operate at to make sure that each prisoner gets that individual support that helps them reform, get off drugs, get into work, but also keeps the prison safe”.

But staff levels are not the only issue, she said, adding: “It’s also about tackling the drones, the drugs, the phones”.

Media captionWatch a drone deliver drugs and mobile phones to London prisoners in April

The debate around escalating levels of violence, suicide and self-harm in prisons has increasingly focused on staff shortages.

Latest figures show a new high of 65 assaults in jails every day.

In the year to June, assaults on staff jumped by 43% to 5,954, with 697 of these recorded as serious.

Union leaders warned on Wednesday that prisons were facing bloodbaths unless more staff were recruited and retained.

Steve Gillan, of the Prison Officers Association (POA), said proper staffing levels were needed if officers – not inmates – were to be in charge of jails.

Media captionLiz Truss tells Radio 4’s Today programme more prison staff will be recruited

He told BBC Breakfast: “The reality is this government has caused the problem – they’ve cut the staffing levels, they’ve taken so much money out of the system that the system is broken.

“And my union will not stand by and watch our members become punch bags on a daily basis”.

He said the POA would consider industrial action if it cannot reach an agreement with the government by 11 November.

Measures expected in the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper include:

  • Testing all offenders for drug use on entry and exit from prison
  • Testing of offenders’ levels of English and maths so progress made on the inside can be measured, with results published in new prison league tables
  • A new duty on the secretary of state to intervene when prisons are failing
  • No-fly zones over prisons to stop drones dropping off drugs and contraband

Warnings have also come from prisoners on the inside, with one inmate at London’s Pentonville telling the BBC that knives are flown in by drones and razors are melted into toothbrushes to make weapons.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said Ms Truss needed to “regain the trust of prison governors and prison officers” with her speech.

“Without a comprehensive plan to deal with these issues then her speech will be nothing more than empty words and a blatant PR stunt.”

Mr Gillan said: “We all know the statistics – Liz Truss herself has conceded… to us in a meeting that the prisons are full of violence and in some cases out of control.

“She concedes that they are awash with drugs and that we have many problems within our system. That’s why we’ve said we want the here and now dealt with, and the health and safety of prisoners and staff. And that’s not being addressed”.

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Officers work with “some of the most vulnerable, disaffected, violent members of society”

Dame Sally Coates, a former head teacher who carried out a review of education in prisons for the government earlier this year, said the extra officers pledge is “probably not going to be enough, but it’s a start”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme officers should be trained to be more than just “turn keys” whose only job is to lock people up.

Dame Sally said: “If we are really really going to change prisons… they have to be able to do more than that – they are working with some of the most vulnerable, disaffected, violent members of society and yet they’re often unskilled, untrained, have very little personal or professional development.”

Ms Truss said her reform plans addressed not just violence in prison, but reoffending rates.

She said: “Within a year almost 50% of those who’ve just left prison are likely to commit another crime. And that costs £15 billion to society and of course huge human misery.

“So as well as getting the violence down, my reform plans are designed to get prisoners into work, off drugs, get the education they need – so that when they leave prison they contribute to society rather than committing crime”.

Last month, Ms Truss announced an extra 400 prison officers would be recruited, which means there will be 2,500 new recruits joining the service altogether.

In echoes of her predecessor Michael Gove’s reform plans, Ms Truss is also planning to give governors more say over how their prisons are run and make sure they are held to account for levels of reoffending and drug misuse.

If jails are assessed to be failing, the justice secretary will have a new legal duty to intervene.

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