Union warns that threats to officers’ safety are driving many out of the service
by Felicity Collier
BRITAIN’S prison population is set to soar to 88,000 in the next five years while staff numbers continue to decline.
The Prison Officers Association (POA) warned yesterday that staff were increasingly leaving the service due to unprecedented levels of threats to their safety.
And it questioned the ability of those at the top to manage the prison system when it has become so “out of control.”
The comments followed the government’s publication of the latest prison population figures.
Justice Secretary David Lidington insisted that the recruitment of new prison officers was at a record high, partly due to the graduate scheme, while Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service said that more than 2,056 officers had been appointed since January.
But POA general secretary Steve Gillan branded the statistics “smoke and mirrors” on the government’s part.
He told the Star: “The prison population continues to increase, whereas the rate of staffing has diminished over a significant period.
“The government only now appears to be getting its act together to recruit, whereas before they were cutting staffing by 30 per cent.”
Mr Gillan predicted that the crisis would continue unless salaries were improved and the pay cap was lifted.
He called for prison officers’ retirement age to be lowered, saying: “It’s ridiculous for them to work in that environment at the age of 68.
“The government say they will recruit 2,000 more staff, but they took away 8,000.”
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “Under the Tories, overcrowding and understaffing have brought the prison system to a crisis.
“These figures demonstrate that this Conservative government has no real plan to fix the mess it’s made and that overcrowding is only set to get worse over the coming years.”
The POA said that millions of pounds were being spent on researching the reasons behind the decline, but it was nonetheless clear that “security, safety and control are no longer present in our prison system and staff are being used as punch bags and tools of convenience to cover up the inept management skills of those at the top.”