THE government was accused today of “totally misleading the public” over crisis staffing levels in Britain’s prisons.
Justice Secretary David Gauke boasted at the weekend that a recruitment drive launched in 2016 had exceeded its target of 2,500 new prison officers and had resulted in 3,111 recruits to the service.
But the Prison Officers Association (POA) said the claim misrepresented the true state of staffing levels, which have resulted in rising violence and riots in prisons.
POA national chairman Mark Fairhurst said that when the recruitment drive began there were 1,500 vacancies in the service, another 3,254 officers had quit since, and that since 2010 the service has lost 7,000 officers.
In some areas almost a third of staff were quitting the service.
“Our employer’s own statistics demonstrate that when the much-needed 3,111 recruits are taken into account, we still have a significant deficit of prison officers,” Mr Fairhurst said.
“Attrition rates in some areas exceed 30 per cent and it is becoming apparent that more and more experienced staff are leaving the service.
“The retention of staff is a massive issue and we need to encourage staff to stay in the service by offering higher starting salaries, consistent above-inflation pay rises, a return to a retirement age of 60 and the protective measures in place to address violence.
“Only then can we start to avert the crisis we find ourselves in. Whilst we welcome the recruitment drive the public should be told the true and accurate picture instead of the smoke and mirrors approach of government.”
The union said that if the recruitment campaign was as successful as Mr Gauke claimed, there should be an immediate end to “detached duty” in which an average 200 prison officers a week are transferred to plug staffing gaps in other prisons.
POA also said the prison service expected to lose another 1,800 staff this year.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon MP said: “The Conservatives’ reckless decision to axe nearly 7,000 prison officers unleashed an unprecedented crisis in our prisons.
“Despite meeting its own target, there are still nearly 4,000 fewer front-line officers than in 2010 and there have also been deep cuts to vital backroom staff.
“The government needs to go a lot further if it is going to reverse the huge damage its own cuts have done to our prisons and which has left them more violent than ever.”
In September and December last year Birmingham prison was hit by two riots. Other prisons hit by riots last year included Swaleside in Kent in December, Long Lartin in Worcestershire in October and The Mount in Hertfordshire in August.
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