The prison environment has been significantly impacted by financial cutbacks, resulting in numerous repercussions on overall conditions. One notable consequence is the scarcity of personnel within prisons, leading to deteriorating living conditions for inmates. To everyone’s surprise, the investigation carried out by the prison inspector unveiled an even more severe shortage of staff than originally anticipated. Additionally, exacerbating this predicament is the persistence of a strict and rigid regimen enforced within the facility itself. Both staff members and prisoners express their deep-seated feelings of insecurity as incidents involving inmate-on-inmate violence soar to alarming levels. As a result of insufficient staffing numbers, inexperienced personnel, and a high turnover rate that impedes its effectiveness, the institution struggles across multiple domains.
Evolution in Prison Staff Recruitment and Support
In the past, many individuals would enter this profession in their mid-twenties after gaining experience in other fields, often including military service. However, there has been a shift, and some fresh staff members have recently graduated. Prison administrators are becoming increasingly aware that while these recruits possess the potential to excel as exceptional officers, they require more extensive support than their predecessors. Promising initiatives, like the one seen at Featherstone and similar institutions, involve implementing comprehensive mentoring programs for new officers.
Current circumstances demand that even seasoned personnel receive adequate assistance. The correctional system grapples with a rise in staff illnesses, with certain penitentiaries bearing a more pronounced brunt. Charlie Taylor, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Her Majesty (HM), has remarked on the prevailing conditions, the scarcity of staff, and how these factors detrimentally affect the state of prisons. He acknowledges the complex nature of the issue, highlighting the immense challenge at hand. Nevertheless, there are more acceptable courses of action than permitting the status quo to persist.
The facts indicate that more than one in seven (15%) prison officers left the service in 2021.
The number of staff working in crucial officer roles in the prison system has dropped significantly in recent years. In the last 12 months, 600 staff in prison officer and custodial manager roles have declined. The Prison and Probation Service has presented initiatives to improve support for new employees and aid development. However, despite these efforts and enhanced pay, the numbers leaving the service are increasing. Days lost through sickness have also risen significantly in the last five years.
Prison, as a community, should not be a terrifying
Prison Reform Trust (PRT) responded to the Justice Select Committee investigation on the prison operational workforce and mentioned that: Prison should not be a terrifying or demoralising workplace, and it is a failure of strategy and management if it is. The solution to the present staffing crisis starts from the same place as the solution to all the considerable shortcomings of our current prison system — demand for imprisonment must be obtained in line with the supply of the means to deliver it. Demand management, in turn, needs a re-thinking from the first principles of our approach to sentencing for more severe offending.”
What do UK Prison Population Statistics demonstrate?
The prison population of England & Wales quadrupled in size between 1900 and 2018, with around half of this increase taking place since 1990. The Scottish prison population has almost doubled since 1900 and has risen 60% since 1990. The data series for Northern Ireland starts in 2000. Between 2000 and 2020/21, the prison population of Northern Ireland increased by 40%, although the prison population is currently well below its peak of around 1,800 in 2014.
- 159 prisoners per 100,000 of the population in England and Wales
- 162 per 100,000 in Scotland.
- 97 per 100,000 in Northern Ireland.
In each jurisdiction, prison population predictions are made regularly. At the most recent assessment, the prison population in England and Wales is estimated to grow to 98,700 by 2026, to 7,800 in Scotland by 2022, and to 2,251 in Northern Ireland by 2022.