The prison officer as a key figure
in reducing re-offending
1. This inquiry was, in part, inspired by our
concerns over the difficulties in negotiating a rapidly changing
and increasingly complex criminal justice landscape for the people
administering sentences and endeavouring to reduce re-offending
on an everyday basis. In addition, an e-consultation we held in
another inquiry, into the overall allocation of resources across
the criminal justice system, and other evidence showed us that
individuals can have enormous influence on whether particular
offenders go on achieve a law-abiding lifestyle.
Prison officers, in day-to-day contact with those in custody,
have the opportunity and potential to exert this kind of influence.
2. This report focuses on the uniformed officers
who have day-to-day contact with prisoners, from the 'residential'
or 'landing' prison officer to the uniformed grades with line
management responsibilities, senior and principal officers. We
sought the views of officers 'on the wings' as well as their colleagues
through an e-consultation to which they could contribute independently
and anonymously. Details of the e-consultation are set out in
an annex to this report.
3. We also considered this inquiry timely in
view of the changes proposed by the Government to working practices
amongst prison staff. The "Workforce Modernisation"
programme is a fundamental reform of all existing working practices,
terms and conditions and pay and grading of posts within the Prison
Service. The overall aim of the project is to deliver greater
efficiencies and productivity, one of its key aims being to tackle
the Service's biggest cost expenditureits pay bill. Following
the collapse of negotiations with the unions in February 2009,
the National Offender Management Service has announced its intention
of implementing the proposals in a limited form for all staff
joining the Service from September 2009.
4. During our inquiry the Government announced
the abandonment of its proposals to introduce the high-capacity
prisons known as "Titans" and instead build a number
of 1,500 place prisons. We have already welcomed the abandonment
of the Titan prison proposals while expressing our concern that
the Government appears prepared to pursue policies likely to lead
to the highest prison population in Western Europe.
We consider the implications of the new proposals for institutional
structures, both new prisons and clustering of existing institutions
A system under pressure
5. The number of prisoners in England and Wales
has increased by 30% in the ten years from 1997 to 2007,
from approximately 60,000 to over 84,000 today.
While we consider it essential to have a safe and effective prison
service, with adequate places and modern facilities, there is
plenty of evidence that in a significant number of cases the result
of the prison experience is to "make bad people worse"
and increase the likelihood of re-offending. It is therefore vital
to concentrate the use of prison resources on (a) holding only
those who pose an actual danger to the public and (b) the rehabilitation
of such offenders so that by the time of release they pose less
of a threat to the public.
6. Despite the building of over 20,000 prison
places since 1997, the system remains overcrowded, and has been
since 1994. Ministry
of Justice figures for 2007-08 show the rate of overcrowding was
leads to two specific concerns. First, it undermines the effectiveness
of rehabilitation work with prisoners and curtails key engagement
such as education and work programmes and, secondly, it undermines
standards of safety and security. In
February 2008, the number of prisoners exceeded even the 'safe
despite the introduction in June 2007 of an early release scheme
allowing low-risk prisoners to be released 18 days early. This
scheme, in turn, has been attacked in the media for reducing public
confidence in the criminal justice system.
7. While the number of prisoners has spiralled
there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of prison
officers. The total full-time equivalent staff at officer grade
employed throughout the prison estate in 2000 was 24,272, rising
to 26,474 at the beginning of 2006, an increase of 9%. Over the
same period the prison population has increased by 24%.
8. The total cost of the prison estate in 2007-08
was £3.841 billion. Some of our witnesses asserted the need
to take account of the wider social costs of imprisonment arising,
for example, from the need to make provision for the children
of women given custodial sentences.
The direct average annual cost of an individual prison place is
The cost of the Crown Court process of imposing a prison sentence
has been estimated by the Government's Social Exclusion Unit to
be roughly £30,500, made up of court and other legal costs.
9. Despite the rising prison population, the
Ministry of Justice is required to make savings of approximately
£900 million by 2011. Of the Prison Service budget, 72% goes
on staff; inevitably, therefore, the ratio of prison officers
to prisoners will be reduced. In this report, we will therefore
consider a potential way forward for the role of the prison officer.
In doing so, we make a series of recommendations which can be
divided into two categories; firstly, those which take into account
the current, unfavourable, economic climate and the pressures
of an increasing population and, secondly, those which identify
opportunities for prudent investment to improve the role of the
prison officer in the event of a manageable prison population
and improved economic circumstances.
The history of the role of the
10. Historically, the prison officer was simply
a turnkey, required to keep prisoners securely and ensure they
behaved in a more or less orderly fashion. From the late nineteenth
century onwards, the function of imprisonment explicitly evolved
from simple punishment to a process of moral reformation. The
role of the prison officer within this process, however, has remained
undefined. In 1935 prison staff training was introduced, although
it primarily focused on security aspects of the role rather than
reformative or rehabilitative elements.
11. The most significant review of the Prison
Service in recent times resulted in the 1991 report by Lord Woolf,
then Lord Chief Justice, following the riots in HMP Strangeways.
Professor Andrew Coyle, of the International Centre for Prison
Studies, King's College, London, told us that Lord Woolf identified
a malaise at the heart of the work of the Prison Service; his
the high calibre and deep commitment of the majority
of Prison Service staff at all levels. They have an immense sense
of loyalty. They have a warm sense of camaraderie with their colleagues.
They want to see improvements within the prison system; and
the dissension, division and distrust which exist
between all levels of Prison Service staff. They labour under
a blanket of depression. They lack confidence in the value of
what they do. They harbour a deep sense of frustration that the
effort which they are devoting to the Service is not appreciated.
12. Since the recommendations of the Woolf report
there have been a number of changes to the work done by prison
officers. Professor Alison Liebling of the Institute of Criminology,
Cambridge University, summarised the changes as follows:
In some ways I think the role has professionalised.
One of the important things that has happened is that there is
a better alignment between the aims of the prison and the inclinations
of prison officers, so I think officers have become quite
comfortable with the public protection framework, and in that
sense there is less role conflict in the prison officer, they
have found a way of combine their two security and care roles.
But the other thing that has obviously happened is the population
has grown exponentially, the population has changed, and prison
sentences are more complicated, so what prisoners need from prison
officers has become much more demanding, so the knowledge base
of prison officers is getting a bit out of date. There is
also, as you know, private sector competition which means there
are experiments with how low you can set the threshold for staff
numbers, pay, remuneration, those sorts of things. So in lots
of ways the role has become more demanding, power has shifted
upwards so managers manage staff much more closely, there are
targets and performance indicators, there is more transparency
about the performance of a prison, so I think prison officers
feel more closely monitored, visible, to external management.
13. The past two decades have also seen a growth
in formal courses undertaken by prisoners to address the reasons
for offending behaviour, an increase in the number of outside
specialists coming into prisons to work with prisoners, the introduction
of an independent disciplinary system for prisoners and the creation
of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) bringing together
prison and probation. All these changes have been piecemeal with
no obvious consideration of their impact on the role of the prison
officer. In our view, and particularly in light of the Workforce
Modernisation programme and the plans for the largest prisons
ever seen in the UK, a comprehensive review of the role of the
prison officer is long overdue.
14. Lord Woolf's analysis does not fully capture
the sense that a significant proportion of prison officers join
the service out of a real sense of vocation and have a genuine
commitment to developing constructive relationships with prisoners.
As the results of our e-consultation demonstrated, many officers
want to play a positive role in helping prisoners to develop a
sense of self-worth and take advantage of prison as an opportunity
for education and training. The evidence of the impact of such
attitudes is anecdotal but significantwe heard examples
of life-changing made decisions while in prisonand we are
not convinced that the positive motivation of prison officers
is being fully harnessed as a force for good. While acknowledging
the value and strengths of the high-quality individual officer,
the organisational systems of the Prison Service (now NOMS), the
top-down nature of Workforce Modernisation and the leadership
style within the Prison Officers Association, all appear to be
trapped in structures, whereas each prison is a community in which
the collective environment and individual relationships are enormously
important. More needs to be done to learn from management styles
developed in other aspects of public service which have faced
similar challenges in respect of organisation, motivation and
collective performance, including environments as disparate as
schools, hospitals, the police and the armed services.
A varied workplace
15. There are currently almost 26,000 prison
officers working in 128 public sector prisons, with at least another
2,600 "prison custody officers" working in the private
sector. They work
with a prison population of over 84,000
in a system with only 74,700 places that have 'normal' access
to offending behaviour work, employment, education, hygiene exercise
and kitchen facilities.
Prison size varies from around 98 to 1,173 places although the
need to utilize "safe level of overcrowding"
capacityrequired to hold the current prison populationincreases
those figures to 100 and 1,475 respectively.
Prisons are spread across the country, in rural and urban districts,
from HMP Acklington and HMYOI Castington in Northumberland, to
HMP Birmingham and HMP Belmarsh in London, down to HMP Dartmoor
in Devon. Prisoners can be held in any prison of the right security
category in England and Wales, regardless of their family or community
16. Prisons can be dedicated to specific security
categories, juveniles, young offenders, women, foreign nationals,
resettlement, sex offenders, receiving the 'local' prisoners from
the surrounding courts, or long-term prisoners requiring high
security conditions. Nevertheless certain problems characterise
the prison population across these divisions.
- 72% of male and 70% of female
sentenced prisoners suffer from two or more mental health disorders.
- In 2007, there were 22,459 recorded incidents
of self-harm in prison and 83 apparently self-inflicted deaths.
- 75% of prisoners have a dual diagnosis (mental
health problems combined with alcohol or drug misuse).
- 20-30% of offenders have learning disabilities
or other difficulties that interfere with their ability to cope
with the criminal justice system.
- 48% of prisoners have a literacy level below
that expected of 11 year olds, rising to 65% for numeracy. 
- Before entering custody, a third of prisoners
were of no fixed abode, 67% were unemployed and 66% of female
and 59% of male prisoners cared for children under 18.
- For 85% of the mothers in custody their first
night in prison was the first time they had spent any significant
time away from their children.
- 27% of the prison population are from a minority
ethnic group despite these groups making up only around 8% of
the general population.
- Finally, the number of sentenced prisoners aged
60 and over rose by 149% between 1996 and 2006 making this the
fastest growing age group in the prison system.
17. Each of these characteristics is significant,
and deserving of separate study, recommendations and action. Some
have been the subject to significant examination in recent times
(for example within the Corston report on women in prison). Others
have not yet been addressed within the structures and policies
of the Prison Service or the Ministry of Justice although the
statistics quoted are neither new nor surprising. It can be argued
that none of these have been tackled sufficiently to enable prison
officers to focus on rehabilitation as well as security as a day-to-day
priority. We will return to this list in due course but, in relation
to the role of the prison officer, it demonstrates the complex
range of factors that prison officers have to cope with and the
need for specialist intervention and support to enable them to
fulfil their role adequately.
1 E-consultation Allocation of resources for the reduction
of re-offending: Justice Reinvestment Back
Press Notice No. 27 of Session 2008-09 Back
Ministry of Justice (2008) Offender Management Caseload Statistics
Ministry of Justice Prison Population and Accommodation Briefing,
16 October 2009 Back
Home Office, Digest 4: Information on the Criminal Justice System
in England and Wales, 1999. Back
Evidence from the Ministry of Justice [not printed]. Back
For example, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6766119.stm Back
HC Deb, 20 March 2007, col 790W, Home Office, Offender Management
Caseload Statistics, 2005, and NOMS, Prison Population and Accommodation
Briefing for 30 March 2007. In 1997 the officer:prisoner ratio
was 1:2.4, by 2002 it was 1:2.7 and in 2009 it had increased to
1:2.9. these, of course, are total figures and do not reflect
officer: prisoner ratios during the working day or night. Back
The new economic foundation has estimated that the imprisonment
of mothers for non-violent offences carries a cost to children
and the state of more than £17 billion over ten years Back
HC Deb, 17 December 2008, col 852W Back
Reducing Re-offending by Ex-Prisoners', Social Exclusion Unit,
2002; p 3 Back
Prison Disturbances : April 1990, Report of an Inquiry, paragraph
Q 1 Back
Ev 114 Back
Prison Population and Accommodation Briefing- 16th
October 2009 (NOMS) Back
74,700 is 'certified normal accommodation', places which are sufficiently
resourced. Figures from Ministry of Justice Population in Custody
monthly tables, May 2009. Page 1 states overcrowding therefore
running at 111% Back
"Operational capacity" is the 'safe level of overcrowding'
defined by NOMS as the total number of prisoners that an establishment
can hold taking into account control, security and the proper
operation of the planned regime. It is determined by area managers
on the basis of operational judgement and experience. Back
HMP East Sutton Park certified normal accommodation 98, operational
capacity 100; HMP Wormwood Scrubs certified normal accommodation
1,173 operational capacity 1,265; HMP Wandsworth certified normal
accommodation 996, operational capacity 1,475. HC Deb, 27 February
2008, col 1717W. Back
Prison Act 1952 section 12 provides "a prisoner
be lawfully confined in any prison." Back
Bromley Briefing (June 2009), Prison Reform Trust, p 37 Back
HC Deb, 5 March 2008, col 2628W: Annual Report Prison and Probation
Ombudsman 2007-08, page 5 Back
Loucks, N. (2007) No One Knows: Offenders with Learning Difficulties
and Learning Disabilities. Review of prevalence and associated
needs, London: Prison Reform Trust Back
Bromley Briefing (June 2009), Prison Reform Trust, p 16 Back
Home Office Research Study 208, and HC Deb, 28 April 2003, col
Home Office Research Study 162 (1997), Imprisoned Women and Mothers,
Home Office: London Back
2001 census Back
NOMS, Safer Custody News, January/February 2008 Back