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Prison and Probation staffing picture still bleak
Latest (to June 2023) HMPPS prison and probation staffing figures not encouraging.

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Quarterly workforce figures

I did know it was risky to headline last quarter’s HMPPS workforce quarterly stats as showing “shoots of recovery”. The fact that I should have known better is fully demonstrated by last week’s edition (17 August 2023) of the figures which covers prison and probation staffing numbers to the end of June this year. Full details of the figures are given below but we must remember to set them in the context of continuing restricted regimes in most prisons owing to lack of staff and ongoing poor performance in almost all probation areas.

Prison staffing

There were 22,426 FTE band 3-5 prison officers (which definition covers custodial managers, supervision officers and frontline prison officers) in post on 30 June this year. While, this is an increase of 701 FTE (3.2%) since 30 June 2022 it is only a slight increase of 139 FTE (0.6%) prison officers compared to 31 March 2023 with the pace of new recruitment slowing. 

Similarly, there were 5,385 FTE band 2 operational support staff in post on the same date. This figure is an increase of 291 FTE (5.7%) since 30 June 2022 but again only a slight increase of 75 FTE (1.4%) operational support staff since 31 March 2023.

Most worrying is the leaving rate of 13.4% of band 3-5 prison officers, this means that more than one in eight staff leave every year making the challenge of increasing overall staff numbers particularly problematic. It is frontline prison officers in particular who are leaving in droves. The leaving rate for Band 3-4 prison officers (including specialists but not supervisors) was a staggering 14.8% for the year ending June 2023, more than one in seven. The comparable figure for the 2021/22 financial year was 16.1% but in 2020/21 it was “only” 10.1%

The same exodus can be seen among operational support staff where the leaving rate to this June was 17.1% (more than one in six). It was 18.3% for the 2021/22 financial year, again a big jump from 2020/21 when it was a paltry 11.9%.

You can see my interactive chart of the data below.


There were 4,418 FTE band 4 probation officers in post (band 4 is POs, band 3 PSOs) on 30 June. This is a decrease of 124 FTE (2.7%) since 30 June 2022 and no substantial change of FTE probation officers compared to 31 March 2023. In addition to the band 4 probation officers, there were 6,801 FTE band 3 probation services officers.

This is an increase of 990 FTE (17.0%) since 30 June 2022 and a decrease of 149 FTE (2.1%) since 31 March 2023. The decrease is particularly worrying because the main reason the annual increase was so large is that the recruitment campaign to get more probation officers. HMPPS succeeded in recruiting 1,514 trainee probation officers in 2022/23 and these are classified as band 3/PSOs while in training. If a small but substantial percentage of these are leaving before qualifying, it will continue to be difficult to get enough probation officers in post.

The most recent (up to 30 June this year) leaving rates for probation staff are:

  • Senior Probation officers 4.3%
  • Probation Officers 7.4%
  • Probation Service Officers 11.8%

Sickness rates remain a concern with probation staff off sick for an average of 12.1 work days per year with probation officers off sick an average of 15.1 days or three weeks. PSOs are off sick for an average of 12.3 days per year.

The reason for well over half (57.4%) of probation staff taking absence for sickness was mental and behavioural disorders.


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

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