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The fall and fall of prison officer numbers

The Howard League says that the Ministry of Justice has failed in its recent attempt to recruit more prison officers leading to increasingly unsafe prisons.

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Recruitment failing

Two days ago (1 September 2016) the Howard League for Penal Reform published a new set of official figures showing that the number of frontline prison officers continues to fall despite a massive recruitment campaign by the MoJ.

There is plenty of other official data confirming this well known problem; however, the real value of these Howard League figures is that they show the significant variations in staffing numbers between different establishments.

When perusing the tables below, you should bear in mind that the prison population actually increased during this three year period (from 83,796 to 85,130) and that 2014 was the low point in prison staff which prompted NOMS to embark on a major recruitment drive.

Prison officers A to Hatfield

* Berwyn prison is scheduled to open in 2017.

** Blundeston, Dorchester, Northallerton and Reading prisons were closed in December 2013.

*** Hatfield was part of Moorland prison but is now a separate prison.

Prison officers Haverigg Stocken

stoke heath prison officers to z

**** Wolds, which had been run by G4S, and Everthorpe, which was publicly run, were merged to form Humber prison.

***** Elmley, Swaleside and Standford Hill were managed as a cluster of three prisons, but this was disbanded in 2014 and they are now run separately.


As you can see, while prison such as Haverigg, Werrington & Wetherby have managed to increase the numbers of front line staff since 2013, many others have suffered large drops including:

  • Belmarsh — down from 370 to 278
  • Cardiff — down from 200 to 148
  • High Down — down from 200 to 158
  • Holme House — down from 270 to 178
  • Pentonvilee — down from 280 to 211

The other worrying trend is that frontline staff increased by 440 between 2014 and 2015 only to lose almost all (434/440) of this increase in the most recent year.


Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League, argued that the main problem is not recruitment but the fact that we imprison too many people:

The Ministry of Justice can look again at its recruitment policies but only wide-ranging reforms, which include a serious attempt at reducing prison numbers, will move us away from institutions that shame the nation.


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2 Responses

  1. Hi, the figures published do not take into account how many unified staff are off work due to long term sick which reduces the figures dramatically. This figure would have a more realistic view of how many staff are carrying out relentless bombardment of having to cope with extra work.

    1. Hi Edwin
      Very true, which is, of course, part of the vicious circle which makes recruitment so difficult.
      Best wishes

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