Role of the Prison Officer - Justice Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  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. (Paragraph 13)

2.  We heard from both the Ministry of Justice and witnesses working with the Ministry on the way in which it conveys its ideas on the aim of imprisonment. In our view the Ministry of Justice has failed to articulate the strong, clear focus on rehabilitation required to achieve a long-term reduction in re-offending. (Paragraph 30)

3.  The stated aims of the Prison Service, keeping prisoners securely, treating them with humanity and rehabilitating them to live law-abiding lives within prison and after release are challenging, at the best of times. These challenges have the potential to become overwhelming in the face of an overcrowded system with a demanding population, leading to an emphasis on security at the expense of rehabilitation. (Paragraph 32)

4.  The Government's own research on prison size concludes that smaller units have greater success in reducing re-offending rates. We believe the conflict between the Government's own research on prison size and the new prison building programme increases the lack of clarity in the Ministry of Justice's view of the purpose of imprisonment. (Paragraph 35)

5.  The aim of imprisonment should be to reduce re-offending, while treating prisoners with humanity and keeping them appropriately secure. (Paragraph 41)

6.  We urge the Government to redistribute resources in the criminal justice system to ensure that prison can be reserved for serious and dangerous offenders which will allow prison officers to focus on offenders who present a significant risk to society. (Paragraph 46)

7.  We believe that the articulation of jail craft [as learned, knowledgeable work depending on experience and fine judgements] encapsulates some important truths about the role of the prison officer and should be embedded in the work of both policy-makers and senior prison management in seeking to equip and deploy prison officers most effectively. (Paragraph 48)

8.  Despite the pedigree of the concept of "dynamic security" and the potential benefits of engaging prisoners individually and gaining both material and intuitive insights into the operation of the prison, it is evident to us that the current situation in the prison system militates against this approach. The Government's plans for prison-building and prison workforce modernisation will further frustrate development of effective officer-prisoner relationships. These relationships often yield dividends during the handling of stressful prison incidents, as well as contributing to long-term behavioural reform. The chasm between the insights provided by our witnesses and the approach adopted by NOMS is disturbing and potentially dangerous. (Paragraph 54)

9.  We agree that the complex work demanded of the prison officer is best informed by "life experience" rather than formal qualifications. However, a low level 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. (Paragraph 67)

10.   The recruitment process should give weight to identifying commitment, an interest in helping people to develop and reform, and an understanding of 'community.' (Paragraph 68)

11.  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. (Paragraph 69)

12.  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. (Paragraph 73)

13.  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. (Paragraph 76)

14.  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. (Paragraph 92)

15.  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. (Paragraph 93)

16.   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. (Paragraph 94)

17.  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. (Paragraph 95)

18.  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. (Paragraph 101)

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

20.  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. (Paragraph 104)

21.  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. (Paragraph 107)

22.  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. (Paragraph 108)

23.  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. (Paragraph 117)

24.  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. (Paragraph 118)

25.  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. (Paragraph 120)

26.  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. (Paragraph 126)

27.  While we endorse the use of an objective recruitment process we are concerned at the suggestion that prison officer recruits are so poorly informed during that process that they begin work with unrealistic expectations. A reflective interview, discussing the exercises undertaken, does not give recruits an opportunity to ask questions. We recommend that all recruits are given interviews with the governors of their prospective establishments before taking up their role. While we accept that this will impact on governors' limited time, the evidence we have heard suggests that, if it improves staff-management relations, it will pay dividends in the future. (Paragraph 135)

28.  There is clearly pressure on the prison officer profession at the top and the bottom, with training and minimum entry age being reduced and experienced senior frontline staff grades being cut. Reducing expertise at both ends of the Prison Service seems to be a serious strategic error. (Paragraph 144)

29.  The implications for staffing and management of the Workforce Modernisation programme run counter to much of the evidence we have heard on building a strong, effective Prison Service. Technology cannot replace the "pro-social modelling," positive example, engagement and the challenging of prisoners which are the most valuable parts of the prison officer role. We believe that Workforce Modernisation, as currently proposed, represents a missed opportunity to develop a Prison Service which is appropriate for the twenty-first century. (Paragraph 145)

30.  Achieving a secure prison estate from which escapes never, or very rarely, happen is not only important in terms of public confidence but also in terms of staff and prisoners alike regarding the prison as a "settled community." However, the aim must be "security for a purpose" and we conclude that the Ministry of Justice's emphasis on security in isolation is a mistake, and reinforces negative cultures within prisons. (Paragraph 159)

31.   More training and more investment in staff will produce only limited results if staff are not equipped and trusted by their superiors to carry out their jobs with professionalism and dedication, and unless there is clarity on the purpose of security rather than treating "no escapes" as a public relations objective in itself. (Paragraph 160)

32.  Leadership is crucial to achieving and maintaining a positive culture in a prison. Without a culture in which both officers and prisoners feel change is not only possible but encouraged, prisoners are simply warehoused and will almost certainly return to a criminal lifestyle on release. While this inquiry did not receive detailed evidence on the role of governors, the failure of Workforce Modernisation to consider the role of the prison officer means it is highly unlikely the role of the governor has been sympathetically scrutinised. (Paragraph 162)

33.  The rapid turnover of governing governors allows negative cultures to become entrenched. We recommend the Ministry of Justice examine the reasons for the turnover with the aim of achieving much greater stability. (Paragraph 163)

34.  We welcome the improvement in the care given to staff following deaths in custody which was noted by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. (Paragraph 165)

35.  We welcome the creation of prison care teams with a remit to provide emotional support to officers over and above that required following a specific incident. We would encourage governors in all appropriate prisons to set up such a team for on-going, informal support to officers in their stressful role. (Paragraph 168)

36.  We have seen no evidence that the creation of the National Offender Management Service has achieved the seamless end-to-end management of prisoners that was intended. We believe this may be due, in part, to the wider lack of clarity over the aim of imprisonment. We continue to be concerned about the absence of clarity of purpose in regard to the criminal justice system generally and this creates particular problems for the Prison Service. (Paragraph 172)

37.  The offender supervisor role has the potential to become the "key figure" in a prisoner's rehabilitation. Yet, if an officer is responsible for too many prisoners, this will destroy an excellent opportunity for engagement and make the role a box-ticking exercise. The Ministry of Justice must commit resources to training officers in the offender supervisor role and limiting their responsibilities to a small number of prisoners. Otherwise this welcome development will be a waste of time and resources. (Paragraph 181)

38.   The undermining of the offender supervisor role has not improved relationships between prison officers and management. We regret this. The Ministry of Justice should aim to allot offender supervisors, or personal officers, to all prisoners serving over two years. (Paragraph 182)

39.  It is clear to us that public and private sector prisons have the potential to learn from each other. An over-simplified view of 'contestability' appears to work against the sharing of lessons between sectors. We believe the Ministry of Justice should devise ways of ensuring that contestability does not prevent best practice being disseminated across all prisons in both public and private sectors. (Paragraph 187)

40.  The prison-building programme seems to be entirely focused on economies which are focused only on security rather than maximising the opportunities for reducing future re-offending. It contradicts the Government's own research on effective prison size. The substitution of very large new prisons makes little or no difference to an approach which is likely to deliver what will effectively be warehouses for prisoners. (Paragraph 195)

41.   We urge the Government to reconsider the prison building programme in its entirety. Prisons with 1,500 places will not be conducive to the rehabilitative work our evidence demonstrates should be at the heart of the prison programme. (Paragraph 196)

42.  Our evidence, and the impression gained at Sheppey, indicate that the benefits of clustering may outweigh the risks where the institutions in question are more or less adjacent, or otherwise appropriately situated, there is a clear strategic and/or institutional rationale and there is buy-in to the arrangements from management and staff. Yet, the reverse is likely to be true where any or all of these characteristics are missing. (Paragraph 200)

43.  A close relationship between local prisons could potentially have benefits in achieving the end-to-end management of a prisoner's sentence. Economies achieved by sharing prison services may be possible but 'clustering' should only be undertaken if it leads to the component prisons being able to function more effectively. (Paragraph 201)

44.  Experiences demonstrates again and again that decisions made on the basis of short to medium term spending considerations often cause major financial and other problems in the longer term. Prison officers can only play the constructive role identified in this report and maintain good order as well as security within the prison estate if there is clarity of purpose and coherent management within the Prison Service. That should be driven by the imperative of making the public safer by holding prisoners securely but above all by ensuring that offenders are less likely to re-offend after release. This is the key to both long-term protection of the public as well as an affordable prison system. Our recommendations in respect of the role of the prison officer also require a new approach to a strategic policy on prisons. (Paragraph 202)

45.  The evidence we have heard has shown not only the opportunities prison officers have to tackle a prisoner's offending behaviour but the difficulties prison officers face in trying to have a positive impact in the current prison system. Overcrowding, staff shortages and the high incidence of prisoners with unaddressed mental health, drug or alcohol problems mean the system is constantly at crisis point, leaving little or no time to build productive relationships with prisoners. The Government's policies on 1,500 place prisons, clustering and Workforce Modernisation are, in our view, likely to further deskill the prison officer's role to that of a warder and risks devaluing the sense of vocation which we believe is a significant part of the motivation of many prison officers. This sense of vocation needs to be encouraged, nurtured and developed as far as possible rather than, at best, being taken for granted and, at worst, ignored. Reducing the ratio of officers to prisoners in pursuit of short-term economic savings will damage long-term re-offending rates, creating more victims, more fear of crime and all the social and financial damage that arises from criminality. (Paragraph 203)

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