‘Get enough officers’ is the brief but urgent conclusion following inspections and reports on two prisons by HMP Inspectorate of Prisons . Both HMP/YOI Woodhill and HMP Swaleside since 2014 remain ‘seriously short staffed’ despite inspections and recommendations made just 18 months ago.
The staff shortage has had an adverse impact on prisoners. They have endured less time out of their cells, fewer opportunities to work or attend education, and a dearth of sentence plans that aim to progress prisoners through the system. The increase in prisoner frustration and violence has led to officers resigning due to feeling unsafe, and many new recruits also leaving in haste.
Most prisons in the southeast shared these difficulties. Prisons are competing with each other for staff, as well as with local business who can offer higher salaries and greater flexibility. The highly skilled and dangerous work of prison officers is being met with ‘archaic’ recruitment processes. Governors have no say in the process and are meeting new recruits for the first time on their first day. New recruits are getting younger, often have no experience, and many have only recently left school. While new recruits can become skilled officers, there is no support available to enhance their development. Even experienced staff are not finding the appropriate support they need.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, commented:
“I do not pretend that there is an easy solution here. The scale of the task is huge. But situations as dire as those in Swaleside and Woodhill simply cannot be allowed to continue.”
In an effort to tackle this issue, many prisons have increased working flexibility, recruited part-time staff, and enhanced wages. While it is too early to see the effects of these changes, staff hope a decrease in resignations and an enhanced workforce will follow.