“I will quit if I haven’t succeeded in 12 months in reducing the level of drugs and violence in (those) prisons”.
These were the infamous words of the former Prison minister, Rory Stewart, uttered in January 2019. Here we are, six months later, Rory’s moved on to, and out of, DfID and we don’t seem to be anywhere nearer to that hopeful picture painted months earlier (we’ve all been there with failed new years’ resolutions). In fact, prison violence is at an all-time high.
Prison staff recruitment and retention is another major challenge facing prisons nationwide. According to official figures, the prison system has lost a cumulative 80,000 years of prison officer experience since 2010. The role of prison officer has become increasingly unattractive as both for those who might have looked to get into the sector and to those already within it. High levels of violence, including prisoner-on-staff violence, cutbacks and low benefits has resulted in prisons becoming severely under-staffed. The knock-on effect of this is not only the immediate issue of a lack of control in prisons, but also the longer-term damaging impact it has on the rehabilitation of prisoners, who wind up leaving the prison more embittered and angrier than when they entered.
Recent policy moves however, including the £40 million government funding to boost standards in prisons, have hopefully initiated the tackling of this issue.
This article was written by Becky Clark.