A fairer deal for prison staff?

Pay and pensions

There’s a strong consensus that prison reform can only be achieved not only with a fully staffed prison service but also with good quality and committed frontline staff.

The crisis in prison safety which has escalated so swiftly over the last year with disturbances, suicides and even murders an ever more common occurrence has forced the Ministry of Justice into acknowledging that it is not possible to recruit and retain prison officers without offering them a more reasonable level of remuneration.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss met with the Prison Officers’ Association last week and published details of the new proposed deal on 1 December 2016. The MoJ says the deal has been endorsed by POA leaders but has still to be put to a ballot of the membership.

Key points

The main points of the proposed improved package are:

  • a reduction in the retirement age by up to three years – from 68 to 65;
  • an improved pay proposal covering the next three years;
  • a retention and recognition package totalling £1,000.

On pensions

Prison officers will be allowed to retire at 65 – three years ahead of the current state pension age – at no cost to them and with full pension benefits. The offer to current staff is fully funded by the employer.

On pay:

The pay proposals outlined in the offer for bands 2-5 (uniformed staff) are:

  • consolidated pay increases of between 0.5% and 1% (depending on terms) for each of the next three years, on top of the usual performance related pay increases;
  • a further 0.5% unconsolidated payment next year for staff on ‘closed’ terms and conditions;
  • a recognition and retention award for all staff in these bands of two £500 payments in 2017 and 2018.

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Recruitment and retention

The same MoJ press release also provides information about the work they are doing on recruitment and retention of staff:

  • “We have a plan to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers over the next two years. Our initial plan is recruit 400 of these additional staff by the end of March 2017. We are currently on track to do this.
  • Boosting pay for hard-working staff by up to £4,000 at some of the most difficult-to-recruit prisons and those with high levels of staff-turnover, including HMP High Down, HMP Downview and HMP Coldingley;
  • Appointing 75 mentors for new recruits to help them in their first few months in the job which we know can be a difficult time;
  • Providing retention payments at sites with the greatest levels of staff turnover;
  • We have been piloting targeted local recruitment initiatives at a number of sites so that governors can more easily recruit the people they need;
  • We are putting in place from January plans for local recruitment activity at 28 sites where it has been challenging to recruit.
  • A new Prison Officer apprenticeship scheme will launch next year and help increase diversity and widen the entry points into the Prison Service;
  • Developing a new graduate scheme that will encourage people from a broader range of backgrounds to join the service;
  • We are also creating a Troops to Officers scheme that will support people to join the Prison Service after leaving the military.”

New Psychoactive Substances

Finally, the press release updates the MoJ’s actions to address the high levels of use of NPS in prison:

  • New tests rolled out in September for New Psychoactive Substances across the estate;
  • 300 dogs across the estate to detect New Psychoactive Substances
  • Making the supply of psychoactive substance into prisons, and possession of them, criminal offences;
  • New legislation so anyone found using drones to smuggle contraband into a prison can be given a sentence of up to two years.

Most of us think that getting prisons fully staffed and prisoners out of their cells again and engaged in meaningful and positive activity will be the single biggest factor contributing to the reduced use of NPS inside.

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