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A prison officer’s lot is not a happy one
Justice Committee's large scale survey of prison staff reveals very high levels of dissatisfaction.

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Operational workforce survey

Last Friday (23 June 2023), the House of Commons Justice Committee published the results of its survey of prison staff for its inquiry into the prison operational workforce. The purpose of the inquiry is to understand why high volumes of prison officers are leaving the prison service and the implications of staff turnover against the backdrop of existing pressures.

The survey (which was advertised by both the MoJ and the Prison Officer Association) got responses from 6,582 staff – 25% of Band 2 and 24% Band 3-5 staff. 

Operational staff

Before looking at the findings in some detail, it’s probably helpful to provide some details on the jobs and roles of the different Bands. Band 2 (operational support staff) perform a wide variety of duties, including checking in and supervising visitors, patrolling perimeter and grounds, escorting contractors and vehicles, searching buildings and searching prisoners’ property.

Band 3 to 5 operational staff are collectively known as prison officers and are often grouped together. Band 3 staff are front line prison officers, Band 4 are supervising officers and Band 5 are first line managers.

Workload

I think most readers are aware of chronic high levels of dissatisfaction among prison staff but the findings are still pretty shocking.

  • Nearly two thirds of Band 2 (65%) and three quarters (73%) of Band 3-5 staff say they do not feel valued for the work that they do.
  • Large majorities of Band 2 staff (71%) and  Band 3-5 staff (81%) say that staff morale is not good at the prison they work in.
  • Only just over third of Band 3-5 staff (37%) say they are managing their workload well.
  • Almost three-quarters (71%0 3-5 staff say they are stressed a few times a week or more at work; around half (43%) of Band 2 staff say the same.

Learning and development

  • Only a minority (14% Band 2 and 23% Band 3-5) staff say they receive regular training that is relevant to their role.
  • Only 35% Band 2 and 26% Band 3-5 staff believe there are opportunities to develop their career.

Working conditions & environment

84% Band 3-5 staff and 57% Band 2 staff believe there aren’t enough staff to ensure prisoners can engage in purposeful activity.

The majority of staff working in Male Cat A 7 Cat B prisons and in YOIs don’t feel safe at the prison they work in – see full details in the chart below.

Abuse at work

  • Nearly three quarters of Band 3-5 staff and 40% of Band 2 staff experienced verbal abuse from prisoners in the last 3 months. Full details in the chart below.
  • Around 1 in 5 Band 2-5 staff experienced bullying and/or verbal abuse from a colleague in the last three months

Pay and benefits

Most staff (83% Band 2 and 90% Band 3-5) do not feel their salary accurately reflects the roles and responsibilities of their job. The longer that people have been a prison officer the more this is true. While 76% first year officers feel they are underpaid, 94% of those with 30 years+ in the job feel the same.

Unsurprisingly, 88% Band 2 and 97% Band 3 staff feel the retirement age of 68 is too high.

Future plans

Perhaps the single most important finding form this survey is that 33% Band 2 staff and 43% Band3-5 staff intend to leave the prison service in the next 5 years. With 13% Band 2 and 17% Band 3-5 planning to leave within the next 12 months.

This is the single biggest challenge for those in charge of our prison service.

 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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