Yesterday (18 August 2022), Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) published its latest quarterly workforce statistics, showing staffing levels at the end of June this year. They make for pretty grim reading. The main concern is a big jump in the number of staff leaving both services.
There was a slight decrease of 318 (1.4%) FTE band 3-5 prison officers (frontline staff) since 30 June 2021 and a slight decrease of 276 FTE (1.3%) prison officers compared to 31 March 2022. There was no substantial change in the number of band 2 operational support staff in prison over either the last year or the last quarter.
There was a slight increase of 85 FTE (1.9%) in the number of probation officers in post since 30 June 2021 and an increase of 204 FTE (4.7%) compared to 31 March 2022. In addition to the band 4 probation officers, there were 5,811 FTE band 3 probation services officers: a slight increase of 94 FTE (1.7%) since 30 June 2021 but a very noticeable decrease of 293 FTE (4.8%) since 31 March 2022.
These overall figures do not look so terrible at first glance, although it is important to note that the figures need to be seen in the context of longstanding under-staffing in both organisations. The workforce statistics contain, for the first time data on the exact shortfall of probation staff. Within the Probation Service, there were 4,470 FTE probation officers in post, a shortfall of 1,692 FTE against the required staffing level of 6,162 FTE.
However, when we turn to look at the numbers of prison and probation staff leaving the service, the scale of the crisis becomes very clear.
The headcount of band 3 to 5 prison officers who left HMPPS in the year ending 30 June 2022 was 3,558, which is an increase of 1,264 (55.1%) compared to the year ending 30 June 2021. This is actually lower than previous quarters. Leaving rates fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly due to increased uncertainty in the employment market. Leaving rates in the last year have increased and are continuing the upward trend seen from March 2016 to March 2020. Examining reasons for leaving, 74.5% of prison officers who left in the year ending 30 June 2022 resigned from their roles (up from 61.9% in the year ending 30 June 2021). Of the other prison officers who left HMPPS, 10.7% were dismissed and 6.4% retired in the year ending 30 June 2022: the proportion dismissed are down from 14.5% compared to previous year while the number retiring are similar.
In the past year, 835 probation services officers left the service. This is an increase of 563 (207.0%) compared to the year ending 30 June 2021 and an increase of 113 (15.7%) compared to the number who left in the year ending 31 March 2022.The number of leavers has increased considerably since June 2021, which is likely attributable to competition in the labour market.
The rise in leaving rates over the last five years is very clear from the chart reproduced below.
Unsurprisingly the under-staffing crisis is also reflected in the sickness absence figures.
In the year ending 30 June 2022, HMPPS staff lost an average of 14.4 working days to sickness absence. This is an increase from 13.8 average working days lost (AWDL) for the year ending 31 March 2022, and an increase of 3.1 days compared to the predominantly COVID-19 free year ending 31 March 2020.
Youth Custody Staff (YCS) staff had the highest sickness absence rate at 19.3 AWDL, followed by Public Sector Prisons (PSP) staff (15.9 AWDL), Probation Service (13.5 AWDL), and HQ and Area Services (6.0 AWDL).
Compared to the year ending 31 March 2022, these represent an increase of 1.0 days for YCS, an increase of 0.8 days for PSP, an increase of 0.6 days for Probation Service, and an increase of 0.3 days for HQ and Area Services staff.
Given the anticipated growth in the prison population (the MoJ projects an increase to 98,700 by September 2026), it is unclear how the MoJ will staff the new prisons it is building.