Role of the Prison Officer - Justice Committee Contents

2  Recruitment and training

History of recruitment and training

55.  Recruiting the right people to the right jobs is the basis of any successful business, or other organisation. Training can only go so far. If staff are unable to benefit from educational programmes then there is little point in putting in the time, money and effort to instruct them.

56.  Until the 1950s prison officers were primarily recruited from amongst former armed services personnel.[64] Over the following decades the diversity of recruits increased mirroring wider changes in British society. Between 1993 and 1998, the Prison Service introduced local, rather than national, recruitment exercises. The aim was to end the need for officers to live in prison accommodation without links to the local community and thereby encourage people with families, particularly women, to join the Service. This further contributed to the decline in the recruitment of ex-servicemen, as well as increasing the numbers of women applying to join the Prison Service. In January 2008 NOMS introduced "nationally-managed" recruitment.[65]

Current recruitment and training process

57.  Prison officers are not required to have any qualifications. In the 1990s the Prison Service introduced a requirement that all applicants have five O-levels or GCSEs, including English and Maths. The experiment was slowly abandoned, however, as it became clear the number of recruits in London and south-east England was drying up and that, with national recruitment, regional limitations on recruits were unworkable.

58.  The current recruitment process for applicants to work in public sector prisons begins with a one-hour online numeracy test, completed at the time of application. If the result is satisfactory, applicants are invited to a Recruitment and Assessment Day. At the assessment centre prospective recruits complete a 20 minute numeracy test and a 45-minute language test—with separate elements covering reading comprehension and completing standard forms and writing skills-[66] together with four 10-minute role play simulations.[67] These are not prison-based, but NOMS states that they are intended "to measure the core behaviours needed to be an effective prison officer."[68] The applicants then undergo a reflective interview which augments "the evidence on core behaviours provided by the assessment centre, and based on one of the completed simulations." Finally applicants undertake a medical examination and a fitness test.[69] The recruitment process currently takes an average of 88 days from application to offer of employment.[70]

59.  The age limit for recruitment was lowered from 25 years of age to 20 in 1987, under the Fresh Start reforms, and reduced to 18 in 1999 in an effort to boost recruitment in London and the south-east of England.[71] Minimum recruitment age remains 20 in the Scottish Prison Service.

60.  The number of applicants to the Prison Service is high, with 48,000 applicants since January 2008, of whom 1,500 have been allocated to vacancies and 3,000 have passed the assessment centre and are waiting for places.[72] Training is carried out at one of nine centres in England and Wales and the prison at which the trainee officer will be based. It lasts eight weeks (reduced from 12 weeks). It includes shadowing a more senior officer, discussion groups and some physical work in control and restraint techniques.[73]

61.  Prison officers who are working directly with juveniles are required to take an additional week's training course known as the Juvenile Awareness Staff Programme (JASP). It consists of the following: Child protection (1 day); Understanding and working with children and young people in custody (2 days); Mental health awareness (½ day); Substance misuse (½ day); Vulnerability Assessment (1 day); Training planning and resettlement (1 day); Managing difficult behaviour (½ day); and, Safeguards (½ day)[74]

62.  From September 2007 all new prison officers have to take a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in custodial work during their first year. NOMS told us in written evidence:

The 8­week initial training course, [Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT)], forms the first part [of the NVQ Level 3]. It provides the underpinning knowledge and core skills needed to complete the NVQ and to work effectively with prisoners. The course develops skills and knowledge across a range of specific areas such as mental health, safer custody and security, and stresses the importance of interpersonal skills and relationships.

The NVQ requires the successful completion of ten units of National Occupational Standards (NOS)—five mandatory (including promotion of equality and diversity, and maintenance of security and order) and five selected from the list set out at Annex E of our written evidence. The level 3 NVQ is equivalent to A-level; but, rather than adopting an academic approach, it is, rightly, grounded in the practicalities of the officer's job.[75]

Concerns over recruitment and training


63.  The Prison Governors Association told us that it had concerns over the literacy and numeracy of recruits to the Prison Service. Paddy Scriven, Prison Governors Association General Secretary and Governor at HMP Foston Hall, said: "You will get a report and you will think, "What on earth is that about?" Bear in mind that our staff write reports that are about people's freedom and for court."[76] In Miss Scriven's view, the Prison Service needed to introduce a requirement for higher standards of literacy at the recruitment stage.[77] The Howard League for Penal Reform went further, proposing that being a prison officer become a graduate role within 20 years and that a requirement of A-levels be imposed immediately on all new recruits:

As the nursing profession has done in recent years, the role of the prison officer needs to become a graduate career. This is a radical suggestion and would take time to implement. However, we would argue that the prison officer needs to be more than a uniformed warden, whose first priority is security. In order to get to grips with prisoners' offending behaviour, prison officers should require a university degree covering subjects such as prison law, criminology, psychology, sociology, ethics and mental health. The Howard League for Penal Reform does not envisage that simple changes or improvements to the current role of the prison officer will provide the reform that is needed in the penal system. Wholesale change in the education and purpose of the prison officer needs to be undertaken.[78]

64.  Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League, told us that the proposal was inspired by the sheer complexity of the job prison officers were asked to undertake:

We would not employ a social worker who does not have educational qualifications and professional training, it would be unthinkable, and it should be unthinkable to have a prison officer who does not have the same training and qualifications as a nurse or social worker. Prison officers require complex oral skills, negotiating skills; a knowledge of psychology, a knowledge of history, criminal justice…You, as Members of Parliament, have made the sentencing structure incredibly complex, and it requires a high level of skill to be able to explain it to people. We require prison officers to deliver complicated courses in offending behaviour; to help with housing, legislation, social policy legislation; we require them to help with economics and finance advice—it is a very complicated job.[79]

65.  The value of formal education in producing high-performing prison officers was queried by Professor Alison Liebling of the Criminology Institute at Cambridge University. Professor Liebling told us:

…my understanding is that prison work is almost uniquely talk and action and I am not convinced—you would have to show me the evidence—that formal education is correlated with high performance in interpersonal types of work. In fact, the opposite might be the case. On the one hand I think our officers need more training and development, but I think there are all sorts of questions about what is training and what is the quality of it, and what I think officers respond most positively to is experiential, well-informed opportunity to take [time] out and talk about their decision-making, to think about the way they are performing their work, and in order to engage in that kind of training they need experience.[80]

66.  Colin Moses, of the POA, agreed with Professor Liebling that professional qualifications were not necessarily a guide to the potential of a recruit, nor did he believe that all prison officers should be graduates. Nonetheless, Mr Moses did support the introduction of some qualifications at the recruitment level:

I think you have to have a level of experience, and it sounds very coy, and I do not wish it to be, it is called life experience as well. If you have been into a prison, when you first enter a prison you are put in charge of people who may know the system a lot better than you, and not just may, will do, so you have to learn that system very quickly. I am not one to shy away from academic qualification, I think it is needed, but at what level? I do not personally think everyone should be a graduate; I think people should have qualifications.[81]

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, took a similar position:

… [the] capacity to behave with humanity and respect, to treat everyone with decency and respect, which is the code that the Prison Service works to, is absolutely essential and is the over-arching principle. I think you could do that … without necessarily requiring a set of 'A' levels or university degree. But it is a big ask, given the complexities of the Service, to expect people who have very low levels of intelligence, for example, which is not the same as academic qualifications, to match up to what could at least be required of a prison officer today.[82]

67.  We believe that the complex work demanded of the prison officer is best informed by "life experience" rather than formal qualifications. However, low levels of literacy will impair the work of an otherwise high-performing officer in today's Prison Service. Prisoners' release may depend upon officers being able to express themselves clearly in parole reports and risk assessments. We therefore recommend the introduction of a more stringent literacy test at the sifting stage of the recruitment process.

68.  We have referred earlier to the sense of vocation which many prison officers bring to their work. The recruitment process should give weight to identifying commitment, an interest in helping people to develop and reform, and an understanding of 'community.'

69.  We have received evidence that the basic standards of literacy required by the Prison Service in the past may have led to the recruitment of some officers whose written communication skills are insufficient for them to fully carry out their duties. We recognise that there are some highly experienced officers who have a great deal to give the Prison Service but who may have difficulties reading and writing. We therefore recommend that the Ministry of Justice ring-fence resources which will allow prison governors to identify prison officers who need assistance, and that this aspect of training be prioritised to ensure all officers can carry out their duties in full.


70.  The prison officer is required to work directly with difficult, damaged and sometimes dangerous men and women who are likely to regard them with some hostility. An 18 year old new recruit will be working with prisoners many years older then him or herself, sometimes with a wide experience of the criminal justice system and potentially highly manipulative. Dave Hoskins, of the Prison Governors Association, told us:

I think most of our governor colleagues would prefer a more mature prison officer, somebody with some life skills….there is…the background of the working ethic, the understanding of difficulties in life that could lead to a prison sentence or the factors that could lead up to a prison sentence or a crime. The more mature staff cope more readily with adverse conditions in face-to-face situations with argumentative prisoners, particularly with the mentally disturbed prisoners, a vast majority of which we now have.[83]

71.  When asked what the ideal age for recruitment, Mr Hoskins told us he believed 18 was "far too young" particularly given that officers working with adult prisoners can be advising people over twice their own age "how to go about sorting their life out" when a young officer has "not actually sorted [his or her] own [life] out at that stage." When asked the ideal age of recruitment Mr Hoskins told us: "Twenty-six? It is almost an arbitrary figure to say, but my view is the more mature the better."[84]

72.  Mr Hoskins' comments were reflected by opinions heard during our visit to the Sheppey cluster in Kent. Younger recruits, some officers opined, have been found not to have the life skills needed to avoid vulnerability to manipulation on the one hand, or over-rigid adherence to the rules on the other. While not commenting directly on the minimum age for recruits to the Prison Service, the Chief Inspector of Prisons observed: "It is evident often that prison staff are picking up the people who are most challenging outside. So we need that degree of personal confidence and maturity."[85]

73.  The work of the prison officer demands extensive life skills which allow him or her to build appropriate and positive relationships with the prisoners in his or her care. We recognise that excellent work is done by prison officers of all ages but are concerned that recruiting very young people is unfair both to the recruit and to prisoners. We recommend, therefore, that the minimum age for a prison officer should be raised from 18 to at least 21 years of age.


74.  In 2008, approximately 27% of prisoners described themselves as black or minority ethnic (BME), compared to 6% of staff. In her Annual Report for 2007-08, the Chief Inspector of Prisons noted that Asian and mixed-race prisoners reported more negatively across most areas of prison life than white or black prisoners, particularly in relation to safety and victimization by other prisoners. A survey carried out by the Prison Reform Trust in 2004-2005 found that BME staff were more likely to have experienced direct racial discrimination from their colleagues than from management or from prisoners. Sixty-one per cent of black and minority ethnic prison staff had experienced direct racial discrimination while employed in the service. Most worrying of all, over half chose not to report it. The Prison Service acknowledged the problems with racism in prison in its Race Review 2008, which concluded, at the end of a five year programme to tackle racism in the Prison Service: "…despite considerable investment in procedural changes, the experience of BME prisoners and staff has not been transformed."[86]

75.  The Howard League suggested a targeted recruitment drive to increase the number of BME staff.[87] Professor Alison Liebling told us:

We did an analysis of 49 prisons trying to test whether there was discrimination and whether that was related to the number of minority staff employed in each establishment, and we found that culture outweighed the colour of staff skin…if a prison had a really poor culture, minority prisoners who felt discriminated against were in a prison where most prisoners felt disrespected, so we concluded that feelings of discrimination were reflecting general disrespect and that that was a problem for everybody in that prison, and that it was not correlated with the numbers of minority staff. In fact, some minority staff could adopt quite unpleasant cultural attitudes. We found the same thing with gender, that being a woman does not solve anything. If you are in a really negative prison, the women are as bad as the men are, if you see what I mean…I think it is quite complicated and the needs of minority prisoners are not all going to be solved by adjusting the figures. There is much more going on.[88]

76.  While we would welcome a recruitment drive to engage more BME staff, we do not think this is the solution to racism in prisons. We believe racism is symptomatic of poor training, negative individual prison cultures and complex underlying factors. We make recommendations on training and tackling negative prison cultures which have the potential to assist in the fight against racism in prisons. The complexity of this area, however, requires further research into the causes of racism in prison to allow the National Offender Management Service to develop a long-lasting solution. The prison service should also look at 'best practice' in other organisations that have had to wrestle with this issue, such as the police service which offer many examples of "what works" and "what doesn't" in relation to racism.


77.  Initially, all recruits who will work with young offenders or adults receive identical training. Any specialist training begins after the officers have joined their establishment. There is currently no mandatory specialist training for different types of prison. Professor Andrew Coyle, describing the initial training as "abysmal"[89], commented on the universal basic training:

Giving them [prison officers], if they are lucky, eight weeks' training, sometimes within a prison, not in a prison college, and then sending them off to a dispersal prison, or to a local prison, or to a women's prison, or to a young offenders' prison and expecting them to know what to do and how to do it is really quite wrong, and the fact that the officers do what they do is surprising, but that does not absolve us.[90]

Colin Moses, of the Prison Officers Association, agreed: "you can have prison officers who can work in mother and baby units and prison officers who work with Islamic terrorists; they will have received the same training. They will maybe have had one or two days of assimilation on some areas."[91]

78.  The Chief Inspector of Prisons expressed concerns that specialising very early in an officer's career could limit future employment and deployment opportunities. Dame Anne observed: "I think there is a core of skills, which are basic skills, which you could, and should, equip prison officers in from the beginning. You have got to be fairly cautious about having people who are then too specialised and who cannot move to other things." [92]

79.  Professor Liebling expressed concern that specialising could lead to officers viewing their roles simplistically and confining themselves to, for example, a security role.[93] The Prison Governors Association told us that an officer needed "a couple of years plus…to actually establish yourself and get the knowledge of how to be an efficient and effective officer…Working as a prison officer is difficult, it is stressful, it is sometimes a dirty and nasty job, and you need to be able to cope with all that and to develop within your role and then get the specialist training to move on to deliver more complex work.'[94] However, the Prison Governors Association thought some establishment specific training would be desirable and supported the notion of "streamed instruction", that is additional training following the generic prison officer training modules which are "establishment specific", for example, specific training for those going to female establishments or to work with young offenders or juveniles.[95]

80.  Many of the witnesses were also critical of the content of initial training. The Prison Governors Association told us that entry-level training continued to be built on a generic programme based on the male Category C estate. The Prison Governors Association described much of the course as "'show and tell.'" For example, there was no training for risk assessment, students were shown documents relating to compiling risk assessments but not given exercises in using them. The Association also noted: "Of 4 hours given over to Violence Reduction, 1½ hours on it is a DVD and in Race & Diversity only a very small proportion of time is spent on diversity with little instruction in dealing with prejudice.[96]

81.   When we asked what was missing from the current initial training content, witnesses agreed that mental health and substance abuse issues needed to become part of basic training. The Chief Inspector of Prisons commented that there was a basic core of skills, core of competences, that any good prison officer will need. In her view that would include, for example, an understanding of mental health and the difficulties of mental health, understanding about substance abuse, understanding about managing difficult individuals, and training in other relationship skills, for example, motivational interviewing.[97]

82.  A senior officer contributor to the e-consultation commented:

The training for new entrant prison officers is basic to say the very least…I remember well my training in the college and it did not prepare me at all for the "reality" of working in the prison environment. There is plenty of the politically correct training and minding your P's and Q's but there is nothing in there that prepares you for the sight of a prisoner who has just cut his/her throat, or the mess and smell of a body that has been hanging for an hour or two. There is nothing in the training to prepare you for a full on "tooled up" aggressive prisoner trying to stab you. There is nothing in the training to equip us to deal with the ever-increasing number of prisoners with massive mental health problems and withdrawal from poly-use of all types of drugs.[98]

83.  A governor grade contributor noted the following:

Officers do not feel adequately prepared for what they are about to undertake. The training has been diluted and diluted and diluted. Under initial training a new PO will use a radio twice in 6 weeks and then be expected to use the same to respond to an incident some times on day one of taking up post. Far too little time is spent on the reality of the work, and prisons and prisoners are not portrayed for what they actually are like which gives students a false sense of security. I was scared witless in my initial training. Did this make me a better prison officer? Yes it did..... I didn't go into an [establishment] thinking it was going to be a bed of roses, I knew that prisoners would try to condition me, I knew I had to work shifts. [99]

Another contributor commented: "The old adage comes to mind: 'If you think training is expensive, try costing ignorance.'"[100]

84.  The Prison Governors Association (PGA) and Colin Moses, of the Prison Officers Association, agreed that some training in mental health and substance abuse issues was necessary for all officers in the current prison system. The PGA observed: "all too often, those in acute stages of mental illness cannot be transferred to secure hospitals as pressure of beds makes a selection process necessary and those in prison are deemed to be in a safe place."[101]

85.  The Prison Governors Association also suggested that training in the relevant legislative framework would give officers confidence in their role. It explained that the growth in the prison population has meant staff at a very junior level, often directly from training, are required to take high levels of responsibility at a very early stage. In the view of the PGA they were "inevitably" ill-prepared for this work:

Human rights legislation, the increasing use of legal challenge, and health and safety often makes them fearful of making decisions or putting their signatures on documents. They are often reluctant to make decisions for which they feel they will be held responsible when things go wrong or are challenged. There is little training designed to give prison officers an understanding of the legislation they work with or the legislative framework they function within, despite its increasing complexity.[102]

86.  Stephen Shaw, who as Prisons and Probation Service Ombudsman has responsibility for investigating deaths in custody, felt that first aid training was inadequate and explained that "…the vast majority of [my] reports [on deaths in custody]…draw attention to an insufficient number of front-line staff sufficiently trained in first-aid and, if you like, first-aid plus."[103]

87.  The lack of first aid training contrasts with the recent introduction of a requirement that all front-line prison staff carry an instrument designed to swiftly cut down a prisoner hanging from a ligature.[104] Despite this, Phil Wheatley, Director-General of NOMS, told us that suicide prevention training was no longer mandatory because staff who work in open prisons are very unlikely to deal with suicidal prisoners.[105]

88.  A number of witnesses commented that the period of initial training for prison officers in England and Wales appears to be the shortest in Europe.[106] While approaches to training for prison officers in different jurisdictions are often not readily nor directly comparable, the training period required before first contact with a prisoner appears to be five months in Norway; four months in Finland; more than two months in Denmark; eleven weeks in Sweden and nine weeks in Ireland.

89.  Phil Wheatley, Director-General of NOMS, defended the initial training period as producing good results with limited resources:

The six-week training is good training. We have worked through it carefully. We have made sure it is kept up to date and we keep it up-to-date. It gives people the core skills for doing the job. The test for me on whether it works is, are we able as a result of that to run good prisons? Having just got to the end of my financial year with the best escape figures I have ever seen—ever in the whole history of the Service—with the lowest suicide rate we have seen for some time, with the lowest abscond rate, and with the latest reducing re-offending figures, which are the 2006 figures[107]

The six-week training produces people who do the job well. We are achieving, in difficult circumstances—the population is getting longer term, but we are running a good service. I think you might look at it from Parliament's point of view and think "Don't we do well to get such good results from what is good and efficient use of public resources?" Training costs money. If we are going to do more to training, somebody has to give substantially more money.[108]

90.  The Director-General's defence of the initial training received by prison officers focuses on four specific areas, two of which are escapes and absconds. This seems a very high level and limited basis on which to judge the quality of training. In this context, we note that the 2007 re-offending figures showed a decline in the reduction in re-offending from 2006. In addition, it is unclear how much of the reduction in re-offending is attributable to the work of prison officers. We also note that the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has recorded a "steady increase" in prisoner complaints about the accuracy of the information recorded in reports "in particular", together with a rise in complaints about regimes and security.[109]

91.  We asked the Director-General for the number of prison officers dismissed during their probationary year for failing to complete the National Vocational Qualification. Mr Wheatley could not say, but told us:

If somebody does not complete the NVQ…there may be particular reasons, that they had been sick with a major illness during the period or something like that, but if there is no excuse, then that is evidence of not being competent as a prison officer, and I expect to remove them…[110]

92.  As discussed above, while keeping prisoners securely is a vital part of the prison officer's role, it is overly simplistic to measure success in these terms. We recommend that the National Offender Management Service take account of "local" indicators of performance in assessing the efficacy of training; for example, the outcome of formal disciplinary procedures, the subjects of successful prison complaints to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the outcome of staff satisfaction surveys. Greater emphasis also needs to be placed on the recognising and rewarding the effectiveness of individual officers and the prison team in motivating prisoners to make full use of opportunities for education, work, skill-training, recreation and the development of life skills.

93.  We believe the current content of basic training to be inadequate to equip new prison officers with the skills they require. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice extend basic training to include, at the very least, components on dealing with mentally ill prisoners and those coming off drink and drugs, and the legal framework applying to prisoners, particularly human rights and sentencing legislation. There is also a need for a specific component on 'people skills' both in terms of dealing with a community of prisoners and helping to motivate individual offenders to seize opportunities to aid their rehabilitation and reduce the likelihood of further offending after release. We recognise that additional resources are currently scarce but believe that greater investment in trainee prison officers as soon as practicable will have long-term benefits both for the Prison Service and the prisoners in their care.

94.   We do not think that the training of prison officers in the adult estate should be on the basis of specialist training for a particular type of institution because of the limitations this may place on their career progression and their perceptions of their role. Instead, we recommend the introduction of mandatory training specific to the type of establishment in which the officer is employed during the probationary year. Failure to complete the training satisfactorily should lead to the termination of a prison officer's contract.

95.  We recommend that mandatory training in advanced first aid be part of this new first year training for all prison officers working in the closed prison estate.

96.  There was some debate as the mode of delivery of initial training. While much of the complex work the Prison Governors Association called "jail craft" may be best learnt from more senior prison officers, this increases the danger that any negative staff culture (identified by witnesses as adversely impacting on re-offending work) is perpetuated.

97.  Although there is currently some additional basic training for officers working in juvenile establishments,[111] the Youth Justice Board, the Prison Officers Association, the Magistrates Association and the Chief Inspector regard it as inadequate. The Chief Inspector noted that members of no other professional group are allowed contact with children after such limited training. She identified issues in relation to the role of residential staff looking after children and young people in prison, who are often the most difficult and damaged children in society. The Chief Inspector commented:

Though there is now a seven-day course (JASP) which is mandatory for new staff working with children and young people, that is a much lower level of training than would be required for anyone working with children outside a custodial setting. This is particularly relevant to issues of behaviour management, where prison staff are likely to feel more comfortable with the control and restraint techniques in which they are regularly refreshed than with other meditative or restorative approaches.[112]

98.  The Youth Justice Board carried out a review of the introduction of JASP in 2008 which found that staff felt a need for a greater understanding of issues relating to mental health awareness and managing difficult behaviour in particular. This gives some indication of the challenges prison officers face in working with young people in custody and the training that is required to prepare them fully.[113]

99.  The Youth Justice Board also believed that juvenile detention work requires a separate approach from the start, not only in training but also in recruitment. It said that "Research shows that staff also need to possess particular characteristics in order to be effective in their work. This highlights the importance of targeted recruitment and effective screening." The characteristics identified by the Youth Justice Board were: being interpersonally warm; being tolerant and flexible; using firm but fair exhibitions of authority; demonstrating pro-social attitudes, values and beliefs; and, actively exposing antisocial attitudes and behaviours and offering alternatives.[114]

100.   The Chief Inspector of Prisons agreed that there would be benefits in a "very specific cadre of prison officers dealing with young children and young people"[115] but was concerned that this would limit future employment opportunities for staff. She said: "The difficulty with separate recruitment is what happens about the progression opportunities for those staff, unless you have got a system that integrates them into the other children's services before prison and after prison."[116]

101.  The limited number of juvenile establishments inevitably limits the opportunities for career progression for prison officers who specialise in working with children. This could be overcome by allowing officers access to training allowing them to transfer to an adult establishment if they are looking for promotion. We recommend therefore that to work with this highly vulnerable group officers receive dedicated training in child welfare.

102.  Consideration of the relationship between juvenile detention and children's services is outside the scope of this inquiry but does require specific attention.

103.  In making these recommendations we note the failure of the Government to act on the recommendation of the Education and Skills Committee in 2005 which, in its inquiry into prisoners' education, concluded:

The initial training period of 8 weeks for prison officers is totally inadequate. The Government must encourage the development of prison officers if prison staff are to be expected to encourage the development of prisoners. The initial training period must be significantly increased to a level that reflects an appropriate investment to enable prison officers to play a key role in the education and training of prisoners. Furthermore, prison officers should have an equivalent entitlement to training and development once they are in post.[117]

In response to the report, the Government defended the length of prison officer training:

The Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT) programme has recently been rewritten. The initial course has reduced in length to 8 weeks, but there is a greater emphasis on subsequent work-based learning. Entry level training is just that: the POELT course is only intended to provide new staff with a foundation level of training in core skill areas, communicating the underpinning theory of the job. It is not intended for new members of staff to cover all areas of their role within an initial period of foundation training. Prison Officers remain on probation for their first year in post and during this period their learning is expected to continue in the workplace. Through the use of reflective journals and completion of the National Vocational Qualification in Custodial Care, officers' training continues throughout their probationary period. Through ongoing and end-of-course assessment, the Prison Service ensures that well trained and competent officers are returned to establishments to complete their probation and continue their training.[118]

104.  We believe that the Government's response to the comments of the Education and Skills Committee on initial training for prisons officers fails to reflect the reality on the ground, is over-optimistic and highly aspirational. We recommend the Government gives further consideration to the valuable recommendations of that committee's report.


105.  The introduction of the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in custodial care in January 2008 was described as demonstrating "the way forward" by the Prison Officers Association.[119] Skills for Justice, the Sector Skills Council for the justice sector workforce across the UK, also welcomed the introduction of the NVQ but had some concerns over the use of retired prison officers as assessors as there are difficulties in keeping them up to date.[120]

106.  The Director-General of NOMS was unable to tell us how many trainee prison officers had been specifically dismissed for not passing the NVQ in their probationary year owing to the tendency for there to be a mix of reasons why probationers dismissed. He said: "People who fail to do the NVQ normally are failing to do other things. In the first year we retained about 92% of people, we removed just under 2% and the rest left…We have got a high retention rate, which I would expect because we have selected carefully…"[121]

107.  We welcome the introduction of the National Vocation Qualification in Custodial Care for trainee prison officers. We are pleased to learn that it is open to officers who joined the Prison Service before September 2007.

108.  We recommend that the Prison Service introduces a procedure to scrutinise the reasons why a prison officer fails the National Vocational Qualification in Custodial Care to ensure that the right support is given to recruits and they achieve the maximum benefit from the course.

Current training regime

109.  Since 2003 the only mandatory on-going training all prison officers have received is in control and restraint. In 2003 responsibility for all discretionary training was transferred from central management to prison governors. Phil Wheatley, Director-General of NOMS, told us:

The effect of the mandatory approach to training was that we at the centre decided what training everybody should do, we did not give governors any discretion, we did not treat them like they were grown-ups and could think about the problems of their establishments and culture change they were trying to create, the particular problems their establishments faced, and when we added up our mandatory training, which we cheerfully signed up to at the centre, we knew it was more than the resources that any individual governor had to do it so we could come here and say, "We have got really tough mandatory training…"[122]

Allowing governors to use judgment has given us much improved focus, which is one of the reasons we are producing better results. I would not want to go back to central mandating. I am not a centrist where I believe the centre gets it right and good quality governors do not know how to take decisions.[123]

110.  Prison officers currently receive an average of seven days' training a year, more, the Director-General of NOMS told us, than when training was run by central management.[124] The NOMS approach to on-going training was, according to the former Prisons Minister, the Rt. Hon David Hanson MP, "rigorous."[125] The Chief Inspector of Prisons disagreed. Dame Anne Owers highlighted the rapidity with which training becomes out of date, and also the impact on the culture of prisoners when training is given a low priority:

…if we want prison officers to do the things that we now want them to do, and, indeed, that we need them to do, we need to equip them to do so. I think a corollary of what I have said is that one of the things we are expecting prison officers to do…is to encourage those people who are in prisons to be trained. Why would we expect them to do that and to think that training is a good thing if for themselves training seems to occupy such a low priority?[126]

111.  Stephen Shaw, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, observed that a failure to prioritise training was demoralising for prison staff as there was a value in training quite separate from whether the prison officer leaves the course with a skill that he or she did not have in the first place. He explained: "It is about saying: this is a skilled job, it is a profession, it is a vocation, and as part of that we, the service, the employer, the state, are willing to invest time and money in you as an individual."[127]

112.  Paddy Scriven, of the Prison Governors Association, explained that there were difficulties with staffing levels which have an impact on why governors were not delivering adequate levels of training. She described a typical scenario as follows: "if you have somebody…listed for a training course and you are short of staff because people have gone sick, because you have a bed watch, so you have a prisoner in hospital and you have to put staff in, you are required to pull people off training. It is not ring-fenced in the way it was."[128]

113.  Miss Scriven also told us that valuable on-site training through mentoring was disappearing because of staff turnover:

One of the important elements is having somebody within the establishment who can give staff on-the-job training, who can mentor, who can see how they are coping. To make that essential you need good main grade officers, senior officers. You need senior officers who are well developed and well trained. There are establishments where the turnover of staff is so quick that a new officer will come out of the training school and will learn how to translate the very basic training from the training school into prison practice by somebody who has come out of the course before. That is almost a necessity. We have lost within establishments, because we have lost the budget, the training officer who would oversee that training.[129]

114.  The value of in-house training through mentoring was supported by contributors to the e-consultation. One contributor described the status held by mentoring during his training and contrasted it with the position today:

When I joined the Service as a 24 year old in 1984 I had a bit of life experience giving me reasonable life skills. These were then honed by my training to become a prison officer. I arrived for 4 weeks training at my allocated prison who had a training team consisting of a principal officer and senior officer, both full of knowledge and experience. I then attended Leyhill Staff College for 8 weeks. Our trainers were all principal officers led by a chief officer, all, again, full of knowledge and experience. I arrived at my first posting to be met by the training team [consisting of] a principal officer and senior officer who allocated me a prison officer with over 10 years service as a mentor, I was constantly assessed by the training team for twelve months and then interviewed by the chief officer before eventually becoming an established officer.

If I was joining now I could join at age 18 straight from school with no life skills and receive 6 weeks training at PSC Newbold by senior officers of which some could have less than 4 years experience. During this time I would start an NVQ L3 in Custodial Care, I would then return to my establishment be met by the training team if I am lucky. This team would consist of an executive officer (EO) and an admin officer (AO) both civilian grades with no prison officer experience, I would not be allocated a mentor because it would be too costly. I would then be expected to complete my NVQ within my first twelve months with no help from within the establishment as nobody knows how to. At age 19 in adult establishments having completed my probation I would be expected to deal with 21 year old plus inmates who are both street wise and jail wise with no help or guidance from a fully knowledgeable training team or chief officer.[130]

115.  The Royal College of Nursing said "…prison officer development should involve working in other areas in and outside the prison gates, alongside police and probation officers, mental health, drug and alcohol workers and custody nurses, for example."[131]

116.  We asked the Chief Inspector of Prisons whether there was a case for her remit to be extended to include the inspection of staff training. The Chief Inspector did not commit herself but—describing as "very flattering" the implication that if she inspected officers' training it would be better—agreed that training needed to be improved. She highlighted changes "for example, in equalities legislation, in perceptions about disability and learning disabilities [which] are hugely different from when many prison officers would have started their job."[132] Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, told us that he thought extending the remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons to look at training would be helpful and would "put a bit of ginger into the system."[133]

117.  We accept that imposing mandatory training across the Prison Service is too inflexible to respond to the diverse and changing needs of prison officers. However, we are concerned that the national management of training has not resolved problems with training delivery. We believe that extending the remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons to scrutinise the relevance and provision of training would provide valuable independent oversight of the training regime. While this will require modest additional resources, it will lead to a more efficient and effective training regime overall. The Chief Inspector should co-ordinate engagement from the education and skills sectors to assist her in this work.

118.  On-going training requires a variety of approaches to ensure that prison officers benefit from the experience of colleagues while learning techniques and approaches in other relevant professions. Mentoring and shadowing are a crucial part of learning how to be a good prison officer, particularly given the complexities and subtleties of "jail craft." Workforce Modernisation, as currently formulated, will reduce the number of senior officers in uniform. We believe this will have a deleterious affect on a very valuable aspect of training and should be reconsidered immediately.

119.  Educational opportunities for both prisoners and prison officers were a keynote in the evidence we heard from four men who had spent time in custody. Danny Afzal described how education had been his route out of crime:

The only way I escaped that was four years ago when I did basic English and maths in Brixton for six weeks and from there I went to Goldsmiths College, University of London, for one day and I met somebody there at a project called Open Book, Joe Baden, who is a lovely guy, and he said to me, "Have you ever thought about going to university?" and I said, "No-one's ever asked me that before, ever. How can I go to university?" He said, "Have you ever thought of doing a degree" and I said, "How can I do a degree, my level of English and maths is quite basic?" For six months he actually showed me how to do essays, research, how to do stuff in an academic way, footnotes, bibliographies, reviews, and within six months they said, "We think you're ready to do a degree". I am now in the third year. Next month I am finishing my Bachelor's Degree in history. That is the first qualification I have ever got.[134]

Mr Afzal told us that prison officers could be envious of the educational opportunities prisoners received:

There is a bit of resentment there from prison officers when we get access to Open University courses and things like that because really they want to do it themselves. I have had many prison officers say to me, "I would love to do a degree in this, I would love to do that".[135]

120.  We recommend the Ministry of Justice commission a wide-ranging review of prison officers' recruitment and training. The best way to encourage prison officers to understand the value of education, and enable them to pass this on to prisoners is for greater access to Open University courses for both and for the concept of prison as a 'learning community' to apply to staff and prisoners alike.

Promotion and specialisation

121.  Promotion to senior officer involves a written examination and eight 15 minute job simulations.[136] NOMS did not submit details of the promotion exercise to become principal officer to our inquiry, presumably because this role will be abolished under the Workforce Modernisation scheme.


122.  The question of how specialist roles should be undertaken in prisons, and, if carried out by prison officers, when they should receive specialist training, is a matter of debate. Currently the prison system operates with some specialist officers within the service, who may or may not have received additional training, and with a large number of professionals contracted from outside. We have referred to persuasive evidence that specialising too early in an officer's career could limit career prospects and lead them to 'compartmentalise' their roles to the detriment of their overall effectiveness.

Professor Alison Liebling told us that:

Specialisation has all sorts of risks, because if you specialise there will always be a role that is just security and it tends to mean not care and welfare, so my feeling is that the risk of specialisation often outweighs the benefit. If you do not specialise, staff tend to find their way into the sorts of jobs they want to do anyway; if they are very therapeutically inclined they will try and end up in a therapeutic community or a drug unit or something like that; so I think a certain amount of specialisation happens by itself, and I prefer the model of the officer who sees the job as combining security with treatment, rehabilitation and care, on the whole.[137]

123.  The Chief Inspector commented on that prison officers' specialisms are made more difficult through the reluctance of some professionals to share information or for departments to "operate in silos". The Prisons Inspectorate look for clear information-sharing protocols between healthcare and residential staff, in recognition of the fact that the latter are in effect primary carers. Dame Anne Owers also told us that there was usually little dedicated time for residential staff to perform the role effectively and ensure that they are proactive in engaging with and supporting prisoners. Together with a lack of training, these factors can reduce the opportunities for prison officers to specialise. The lack of training, the Chief Inspector considered, could exacerbate the effects of difficult experiences with prisoners:

While staff gain a great deal of experience in managing very challenging individuals, experience can also reinforce poor practice or misunderstanding. Staff who have been able to participate in mental health awareness training, who have undergone pro-social modelling training, or who are themselves trainers on offending behaviour or drug treatment programmes, have more confidence, and improved skills, in managing prisoners and understanding the background to their behaviour and motivation.[138]

The use of outside agencies may also be detrimental to the overall role of the officer. The Chief Inspector of Prisons told us:

…there is a concern that this [the use of outside agencies] can deskill and undermine the role of residential staff, who are the people in daily contact with prisoners, and who need to be able to reinforce positive behaviour, and challenge and support the prisoners in their care.[139]

124.  Nacro was generally in favour of prison officers developing specialisms. In Nacro's view, trained officers, if given time, resources and opportunities to work across the prison and through the prison gate, are able to build up a level of expertise that is equal to that of staff from outside agencies, while their continued presence in the prison is less dependent on budgets and funding. Even when officers do move to another job it is likely to be within the service so that the resources invested in them are not lost.[140] Nacro also observed that there were some risks in specialisation, as other officers may see no need to develop understanding of the specialist area and that may impact on their ability to work effectively with prisoners. Time allocated to day to day and specialist parts of the role may be unclear. Nacro noted that they had heard such complaints from voluntary and community sector co-ordinators, race relation liaison officers and resettlement staff. The impact of over-crowding and general regime demands may divert officers from the specialist service, creating frustrations and resentment. Despite all these potential problems, Nacro concluded: "The potential for specialism…create[s] staff development opportunities and affirms that the role of the prison officer is more complex and interesting than the basic security role."[141]

125.  The Prisoners' Education Trust works with prison staff in making educational grants to prisoners and directing voluntary finance into prison education projects. It commented on specialism in education as follows:

Whilst there is scope for offender learning support to be a 'specialisation' among prison staff, and we would support a case for developing that, we also think it should be part of the general responsibilities of all prison staff. Prison staff specialising in education could play crucial roles supporting offender learning in many small but significant ways; ensuring access to classes and facilities; ensuring learning resources reach prisoners (many course materials languish in property reception procedures for weeks, slowing down learning and causing immense frustration); encouraging prisoners who are struggling with learning and linking them with peers or mentors etc.[142]

126.  We recognise the difficulties in developing prison officers so as to take advantage of their skills and experience while ensuring officers are aware of the complexity of their day-to-day role. The prison system is able to function because prisoners, on the whole, yield to the system while the system, on the whole, treats them fairly and decently. This can only work if prison officers remain confident that they are not 'turnkeys' but professionals carrying out an important and difficult role.

64   Ev 142 Back

65   Ev 125 Back

66   Numeracy and literacy tests known as Prison Officer Selection Tests (POST) Back

67   Job simulations known as JSAC Back

68   Ev 135 Back

69   Ev 135. It is unclear whether all candidates undergo the reflective interview as NOMS original evidence to the Committee at RPO19 states that 'The purpose of the reflective interview is to provide additional evidence for those candidates who have met the standard in all elements on the assessment day other than certain simulation exercises, which they have marginally failed.' A reflective interview involves the interviewer asking the interviewee toelaborate on his or her responses to the assessment exercises.  Back

70   Ev 125 Back

71   HC Deb ,21 Feb 2000, col 822W  Back

72   Ev 134 Back

73   Ev 114 Back

74   Ev 134 Back

75   Ev 135 Back

76   Q 138 Back

77   Q 139 Back

78   Ev 74 Back

79   Q 56 Back

80   Q 18 Back

81   Q 102 Back

82   Q 55 Back

83   Q 132 Back

84   Q 133 Back

85   Q 161 Back

86   Race Review 2008, Implementing race equality in prisons- Five years on, NOMS (December 2008) p9 Back

87   Ev 75 Back

88   Q 21 Back

89   Q 226 Back

90   Q 229 Back

91   Q 93 Back

92   Q 167 Back

93   Q 49 Back

94   Q 151 Back

95   Ev 144 Back

96   Ev 145 Back

97   Q 167 Back

98   25 March 2009 Back

99   25 March 2009 Back

100   26 March 2009  Back

101   Ev 143 Back

102   Ev 143 Back

103   Q 167 Back

104   Q 173 Back

105   Q 294 Back

106   E.g Ev 72 Back

107   Q 264 Back

108   Q 266 Back

109   Prison and Probation Ombudsman, Annual Report, 2008-09 Back

110   Q 264 Back

111   Juvenile Awareness Staff Programme (JASP) Back

112   Ev 72 Back

113   Ev 167 Back

114   Ev 166  Back

115   Q 178 Back

116   Q 179 Back

117   Education and Skills Select Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2004-05, Prison Education, HC114-I Back

118   Cm 6562  Back

119   Ev 147 Back

120   Ev 161  Back

121   Q 280 Back

122   Q 293 Back

123   Q 294 Back

124   Q 294 Back

125   Q 267 Back

126   Q 166 Back

127   Q 166 Back

128   Q 130 Back

129   Q 131 Back

130   27 March 2009 Back

131   Ev 155 and see annex to this report, P 76 Back

132   Q 166 Back

133   Q 258 Back

134   Q 194 Back

135   Q 203 and this resentment was reflected in contributions to the e-consultation (see annex to this report). Back

136   Annex L to Ministry of Justice submission (not printed; information available from Parliamentary archive) Back

137   Q 49  Back

138   Ev 72 Back

139   Ev 72 Back

140   Ev 136 Back

141   Ev 136 Back

142   Ev 139 Back

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