Role of the Prison Officer - Justice Committee Contents

Annex: e-consultation


1.  The Committee set up an e-consultation / web forum in support of its inquiry into the role of the prison officer. The purpose of the forum was to encourage contributions from people who might not usually participate in a select committee inquiry and thereby broaden and enrich our evidence base.


2.  The forum was opened on 24 March 2009 and was initially scheduled to conclude on 5 May 2009. Following the Government's announcement, on 27 April 2009, of the abandonment of the "Titan prisons" plan—and its substitution by the 1500 place prison building programme—the forum was extended for a further two weeks. An additional three questions were also added.

3.  The site was designed and created by Parliamentary Information Communication and Technology (PICT). During the registration process, users agreed to a set of discussion rules. The forum was pre-moderated by Justice Committee staff—messages were checked to ensure that they adhered to the discussion rules before they were published on the forum. Contributions to the forum were used by members of the Committee to inform their questioning of the witnesses who attended hearings as the inquiry progressed as well as during the process of drafting and agreeing a report.


4.  The forum was announced by the Committee via a press notice (see No. 22 of 2008-09). The Committee also wrote to each prison in England and Wales and to independent monitoring boards via their national council. A link to the forum was placed on the Prison Service intranet. In addition, we sought to reach others with experience of prison life, while recognising that people currently serving prison sentences would not have access to the internet (but they do have postal facilities). The inquiry was written up by Inside Times and a range of organisations representing or assisting current and former prisoners and/or their families were contacted such as Revolving Doors (for those in the criminal justice system with mental health problems), CAST (for women leaving prison), Action for Prisoners' Families, Fine Cell Work (encouraging craftwork in prison), the National Association for Youth Justice, Partners of Prisoners and UNLOCK (working with reformed offenders).


5.  The web forum initially posed the following three questions:

  • How well does the current training and development regime address the needs of prison officers?
  • What role do prison officers have in the rehabilitation of prisoners?
  • What impact will Titan prisons and the Workforce Modernisation programme have on prison officers?

6.  Following the announcement of the new prison building programme, three further questions were added:

  • What will be the impact of market testing poorly performing prisons?
  • Does the announcement of the 1,500 place prisons resolve concerns over the creation of Titan prisons?
  • How can officers and senior management build relationships with the local community?


7.  The e-consultation attracted 17,904 views. There were 357 registered users of whom 120 contributed 252 posts.

  • 190 of the registered users described themselves as 'prison officers';
  • 82 as 'senior officers';
  • 41 as 'principal officers';
  • 16 as 'governor grades 3-5);
  • 12 as 'governor grades 2-1'; and,
  • 11 as 'operational support.'
  • 5 registered users described themselves as 'family of prisoner or ex-prisoner.'
  • 302 of the registered users who were prison officers, worked in the public sector;
  • 1 registered as a private sector prison officer;
  • 13 registered as 'other' or 'rather not say.;' and,
  • 34 registered as 'other prison service staff member;'


What role do prison officers have in the rehabilitation of prisoners?

8.  This question or 'thread' was the most popular in the forum, attracting 6,311 views and 87 contributions (although a number of contributions also addressed other questions that the e-consultation posed).

9.  The majority of contributors to the e-consultation agreed that prison officers had the potential to play a part in prisoners' rehabilitation.

- Prison officers are instrumental in the rehabilitation of prisoners, they are the constant norm in a prisoner's life while behind bars and form the basis for their successful resettlement back into the community.[211]

- The role of the prison officer should and could be the most important part of rehabilitation…[212]

- I have been in the service for 6 years and as I see it prison officers can play a huge role in the rehabilitation of some (not all) prisoners. Some prisoners do not want help but others are calling out for help if people would only listen, I feel that I personally have helped a few regain contact with their families and become parents again. There is not always going to be a happy ending but the few that are make it all worth while. It's not all about locking people up. [213]

The complexity of rehabilitative work was highlighted:

- The majority of the quality work being done is not measurable and not quantative, it is the dynamic element which cannot be measured or recorded but achieves the greatest changes.[214]

- Prison officers have a crucial role in the rehabilitation of prisoners which I believe is largely misunderstood. They are the first people prisoners see in the morning and the last person they see at lock up every night of their sentence. They are in a unique position to exert a consistent positive influence over the whole period of a prisoner's sentence. The vast majority of prisoners have entrenched anti authoritarian attitudes. Prison officers can either reinforce these attitudes by the way they interact with them or they have the opportunity to behave in such a way that has a positive impact on prisoners' attitudes. Every single interaction between prisoners and officers is an intervention. Every conversation is an opportunity for constructive engagement. This takes place daily in prisons and is largely unacknowledged.[215]

10.  There were dissenting voices.

- Whilst the vast majority of prison officers do good work with some of the most disturbed and violent members of our society, it is absurd to think that they have anything to do with the resettlement and reducing of offending of these men and women, it is the Instructional Officer who works with prisoners for up to 8 hours a day (in some cases) that have the greatest effect on them.[216]

- I can appreciate all of the comments from officers who would like to believe that they have a part to play in rehabilitating offenders. I too would like to think I can make a difference but there is not much evidence to support the theory that we can make much of a difference. Most offenders stop committing crime simply because they decide to, not because they have been influenced or persuaded to. Obviously, the type of crime committed and motivation for committing it has a lot of bearing on rehabilitation rates but lots of research supports the theory that many criminals just 'grow out' of crime. Many stop offending as they get older and wiser and can see the error of their ways. They settle down and take on more responsibilities as they raise a family etc.[217]

Another contributor refuted this view, using the difficulty of measuring a rehabilitative contribution as a counter-argument:

- You will never be able to measure the effectiveness of staff in rehabilitation/reducing re-offending. I do know that I have heard countless stories from prisoners who say if it wasn't for the landing officer who took a bit of time to talk to them they would have never straightened themselves out, or it was officer X who stopped them from committing suicide…We just don't get to hear about all the success stories. Doesn't mean they are not out there though.[218]

11.  A few contributors queried the effectiveness of formal offending behaviour work:

- Today I read a piece about how successful ETS [enhanced thinking skills] courses are! Where is the long-term proof?[219]

12.  A number of long-serving officers believed that opportunities to engage prisoners in a positive relationship were diminishing. One such prison officer, who has worked in the prison service for almost 17 years, commented:

- The statement that we are no longer turnkeys but enforcers, role models and sometimes carers couldn't be more apt because, funnily enough, I was able to fulfil all those roles 10 years ago on a daily basis but now we are so stretched I have become, in 2009, a turnkey.[220]

Another officer agreed:

- Not so long ago all prison officers had sufficient time to communicate with prisoners effectively. This daily contact was invaluable to build professional relationships with prisoners. To become actively involved in their development and guide them through their sentence. So what happened? In my opinion all the questions on this forum revolve around one point. That finance has been withdrawn from all prisons …either been through direct budget cuts or an increase of work to be carried out with the same resources.[221]

These views reflected almost universal agreement that the reduction in resources and increase in targets and paperwork meant officers had little or no time to work with prisoners:

- In my opinion, we should play a major role in the rehabilitation of offenders unfortunately with an increasing population and less resources year on year, we have for a considerable time, fallen into a warehouse mentality.[222]

- I can only speak from my establishment's perspective (a local prison) and that is borderline nothing. We operate as a warehouse, we lay on PASRO [prisons addressing substance related offending], ETS etc. but no sooner do the prisoners get on the course or, even worse, are halfway through, they are transferred out. Staffing levels are so low that the slightest problem, even one officer going sick, will result in a course being stopped—if there is officer-involvement, a workshop like PICTA [prison information and communications technology academy] will close so the qualification is interrupted or cancelled eventually. There are gym courses abound, NVQs etc, all with the best intentions, but operationally unachievable. At the same basic maths and English is appalling, yet if the resources were ploughed into this it would be a huge achievement for a lot of prisoners and they could carry on further education at the training establishments.[223]

One officer believed the use of outside contractors—who have little or no understanding of way priorities appear within a closed environment like prison—has made it more difficult to treat prisoners consistently:

- The one thing that sticks in my mind from my initial officer training given by SOs and POs of standing is:- Never lie to a prisoner and always be true to your word.
This I find more and more difficult to achieve. The reason being we as prison officers have lost control of the day to day life on the landings…An example of our major loss of this control is the canteen. When conducted "in house" it was "job done". Now with outside contractors it is a shambles. Question after question from the inmates. "Boss where are my bananas?" what do we tell them? Who do we ring? And when you can get to a phone and contact the said company what do you get? Some anonymous person in an anonymous office, somewhere, who does not understand prisoner "need to know now" mentality. Whose response is "fill in a form" and they may get the bananas next week. This is not fair on the prisoners or officers who have now lost the respect as being helpful and fair as they are thought to be uncaring even if every effort has been made to get the banana problem sorted…Prison officers are role models only if they can be honest, fair and consistent and so gain the respect of the prisoners.[224]

13.  The relationship between outside agencies working within prisons and prison officers obviously varied. Negative comments focused on the failure to utilise the expertise of officers before using outside agencies:

- Why HMPS needs to buy in expensive agency services when their own home-grown staff have all the required skills not only beggars belief, but is an expensive anomaly.[225]

Another officer believed his role in delivering offending behaviour work made that work more effective in actually changing prisoners' behaviour:

- I have been fortunate in delivering offending behaviour programmes for the past 8 years and I have a real belief in their effectiveness. It is the role of the officer in delivery that enhances that effectiveness by breaking down the barriers that often exist between offender and authority figure, thus creating trust.[226]

14.  A number of non-officer contributors—among them teachers, voluntary sector workers and a psychologist—had high praise for the work of prison officers and acknowledged the challenges of that role:

- I represent one of the many voluntary sector organisations, until recently, working in the prison estate…Without wishing to appear fawning in any way, the prison officers we have worked with over the last 10 years in 8 young offender units have been co-operative, engaging, supportive and conscientious—and I don't just mean with us but also with the inmates in their care—in some of the most challenging circumstances and with some of the most difficult young men. You are 100% right in that some voluntary sector agencies go off into their 'other' safe, comfortable worlds at 5pm, some with the smug self-satisfaction—or mistaken belief!—that they have made some sort of lasting positive 'quick fix' impact on an inmate's all too often negative long term thought processes. 'We' are not left with the aftermath of bad news from home, a telephone call that's gone rapidly downhill, the 'Dear John' letter, the refusal of parole or HDC [home detention curfew], bullying and the bullied or even the denial of a basic chat to discuss a problem, purely on the basis of time available.[227]

15.  A majority of contributors felt that there was a lack of attention paid to officers' expertise and experience by management. This reflected a wider feeling across all the threads that morale is low and relationships with management are poor.

- I have watched as prison officers, many of whom come to work with a vast background and experience of life, are not regarded as valuable in the rehabilitation of offenders. There is lip service paid to their role, but the reality is that many feel that what they have to offer is disregarded because they don't have the 'piece of paper' that qualifies them as useful to the rehabilitation.[228]

- What we need is a serious overhaul of ridiculous targets, set by people who have no concept of how to deliver them.[229]

16.  Many contributors mentioned a high level of commitment to their jobs, although some acknowledged that dedication varied:

- I would agree that individual officers can indeed play a part in reducing re-offending, but the unfortunate thing is these individuals are few and far between. It's all to do with building good professional relationships with prisoners, but there is often difficulty in maintaining the status quo, because building trust and respect takes time, something officers find themselves with less of, due to the paperwork and "tick-box" exercises mentioned in previous posts.[230]

- After working in both the High Security estate and a local prison, I am confident that the majority of staff want to be positive role models for prisoners. Others have low morale and become "fallen stars" having lost their motivation to engage with prisoners, for a variety of reasons. I miss the weekends and evening association times where a game of chess or table tennis would give me the opportunity to find out about the people in our prison and what the mood of the wing was like. It also made me accessible to speak to if anyone had worries or concerns facing them.
Now, we are too busy to have a cup of tea with a prisoner and find ourselves either locked down or doing paperwork tasks. The prisoners then, look to each other for advice and support and mistrust the staff as we look too much like police officers.

- By allowing us the opportunity to associate with prisoners will make prisons safer, for staff and offenders. I understand the importance of monitoring and justifying our roles, but engaging and learning about the people in our care is paramount if we are to reduce violence and stop people re-offending. They may not have had any positive role models in the past so why not prison officers?

How well does the current training and development regime address the needs of officers?

17.  This question (thread) received 4,239 views and 64 posts. The summary below includes comments on training made in response to other questions.

18.  Training as a whole was universally described as inadequate.

- The training received is woefully inadequate for the role of the prison officer. Today I interviewed an offender whom was a witness to some horrific atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia which were described to me. They were also the victim of severe domestic violence over a sustained period. When will officers receive training in helping offenders deal with these kinds of issues?[231]

19.  The content of initial training did not, in the view of contributors, prepare recruits for the realities of prison work:

- 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 knew that prisoners would try to condition me, I knew I had to work shifts. We are unrealistic and need to prepare students to deal with what is a difficult and demanding role and some of that is about their own discipline and standards, trainers should be able to manage and deal with students in a more disciplined way.[232]

- The potential for walking into a cell and finding someone hanging is there early on, as is the requirement to be involved in using C&R and the vast range of other practical skills which are not given enough time on the course... another element [is that] the current course is generic and only prepares staff for generic situations.[233]

Several contributors noted that initial training is based on a male, medium security model. The length of basic training was also frequently criticised. One contributor recommended the following:

- The training also needs to be longer, at least 10-12 weeks at Newbold Revel [HM Prison Service Training College], and a month shadowing an experienced officer, only after this should the officer become 'live' Probation should also be extended to 2 years, like the police have.[234]

One contributor summed up the consequences of inadequate initial training:

- The Prison Service is excellent at recruiting enthusiastic people who very quickly become jaded by the reality.[235]

20.  A number of contributors queried whether the current recruitment process exacerbated the inadequacies of training. Age, and consequently a lack of experience and life skills, was noted as a factor by many:

- 19 year olds joining as officers…largely lack life experience and have to be of a very high calibre to achieve the respect of prisoners (some do).[236]

21.  A former prisoner contributing to the forum advocated a complete re-think of recruitment and training:

- Recruits should have a minimum age (25), minimum level of qualifications (3 A-levels), be psychometrically tested for suitability, have stringent testing of things like interpersonal skills, literacy etc. Training should be 6 months before placement (at which time ALL recruits should be fully familiar with the Prison Rules and their duties and obligations under those rules…as most warders deny all knowledge of the rules how can they comply? HMPS should work with the open University to set up a degree course for custodial staff which all staff should be required to pass within 5 years (for which they should have study leave). Current staff who have been shown to be poorly educated and motivated (Select Committee evidence from Howard league and PRT) should be required to 'come up to standard' with 6 years or be sacked. As well as the minimum age staff should be required to have worked in a proper job (not the forces) for at least 5 years prior to recruitment.[237]

22.  The introduction of the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Custodial Care, completed by new officers during their first year at their establishment, received a mixed response:

- The current system of training with the aid of an NVQ is pointless. The original concept of an NVQ was to obtain a recognised qualification by displaying your knowledge. It was never designed as a training aid yet so many groups use them. Surely it is best to train the staff fully and then they put that training to the test in order to obtain an NVQ.[238]

Other contributors, while more positive about the NVQ, believed it had not been implemented with adequate resources in support:

- The current idea that all new officers will complete the standing NVQ is a fantastic stride forward…however it is my experience that the service is only paying lip service to this idea and the investment in time is not being provided to establishments, in fact the establishments are expected to implement this at nil cost to staffing hours.[239]

- The NVQ is supposed to be a way of supporting staff in their first year, but it can only work if it is properly resourced and these staff are given mentors and coaching as part of their working week, not expected to know everything about the job after only 6 weeks of training. NVQs are designed to last for 12 months, not 6 weeks plus a couple of weeks on the job.[240]

23.  Most contributors who commented on on-going training believed it was partly or solely target-driven:

- Training is only provided to meet government targets, if KPIs [key performance indicators] and KPTs [key performance targets] were scrapped, then most training would be cast aside. I personally am a "drug worker", I have been doing this for just under 3 years. It took nearly 2 years to get on an initial training course for the job. I still have not yet…[received] even basic training in drug awareness. I have given up asking to attend the courses available to colleagues in the civilian firm that works along side us. Training is, again, just a tick box exercise.[241]

- As long as training is just another statistic and not driven by the needs of the individual and the establishment it will never be meaningful and objective.[242]

24.  One commentator noted that there was little or no training for newly promoted officers.

- The training doesn't improve either as you get promoted. You sit a board on Friday, get a phonecall over the weekend to say you are promoted, the "management fairies" come and visit you over the weekend and sprinkle management dust on you, and you go into work on Monday a fully qualified and competent People and Strategic Manager?[243]

25.  Most contributors agreed that training and development were under-resourced:

- Training as a prison officer however is a tad more complex, first government set targets for efficiency savings. They then hand over a budget to our employers with those efficiency targets taken off at source and then persuade us that in partnership we must sit down and realise these savings then in an ever increasing prisoner population they cut the staffing levels and call it efficiency savings instead of job cuts....then they look around and wonder why so many staff are struggling to get training because they cannot comprehend there are no staff left to relieve those struggling on the landings to go and get training.[244]

- I find there is not enough staff normally to allow anyone time to go to a course for a few days."[245]

- Training depends on resources, whilst many prisons would like to mentor [new] staff, the reality is that staffing pressures prevent real, effective, support and, more often than not, the new officer just sits as an extra number until the 2 weeks [training period] is up and he then becomes part of the detail.[246]

26.  The effect on relationships with senior management and overall morale for the majority of contributors who perceived the approach to training as under-resourced and target driven was, unsurprisingly, negative:

…listen to grassroots level staff! All we seem to get is flavour of the month.
A new "INITIATIVE" is instigated from on high, with the usual nil consultation, then it's all hands to the 2 hour training period. Kept short to allow the full prison regime to be fulfilled. Then you're IC, because you're fully trained.
If the training were to be ongoing and comprehensive we would have a fighting chance to deliver what is asked of us. If we knew what was driving the said initiative we would also have a chance.[247]

- The service is constantly de-skilling this service and will only be happy when there are major riots again in our jails. All the time efficiency savings are being made the safety for staff and prisoners alike is being compromised.[248]

…a good start would be a change of attitude from the policy makers through the service itself down to and including all non-unified managers to one of treating the Prison officer as a FORETHOUGHT and NOT as an AFTERTHOUGHT which appears to be the current situation.[249]

27.   In conclusion it is worth highlighting the contributors who advocated a greater exchange of experience between the three criminal justice agencies, the police, the Probation Service and the Prison Service (while highlighting that it was the Prison Service who was lagging well behind in this area). For example:

- we have trainee probation officers and trainee police officers who come here for week-long placements to see how our work fits into the public protection role of NOMS. I am not aware of any trainee prison officers who have attended placements at probation offices or police stations. I am however, aware of trainee prison officers arriving back from their initial training with little or no knowledge of the offender management model and our public protection role other than keeping prisoners in custody. Poor relations or what??[250]

What impact will Titan prisons and Workforce Modernisation have on prison officers?

28.  This thread received 4,048 views and 59 posts.

29.  There was widespread criticism of both the Workforce Modernisation programme (process and substance) and Titan / larger prison-building from a similar perspective; the impact or implications for staffing levels and the implicit suggestion that security and reform can still be accomplished with ever more prisoners per officer.

30.  The concerns expressed over Workforce Modernisation focused on the impact on staffing levels and the lack of clarity in the Government's plans:

- My opinion is that the recent Workforce Modernisation (WFM), should have been called Work Modernisation Farce (WMF). Throughout the entire episode we, the industrial grade staff, were kept in the dark and treated as third-class citizens.[251]

- The major stumbling block for me was the potential change in my working conditions that was not on paper for me to vote on. How can any employer expect its workers to vote on something that was incomplete?[252]

- Whilst certain information was made available, other information that was needed was not forthcoming in time for the Ballot, some of the team members for Workforce Modernisation who made themselves available in Establishments could not answer the questions posed and did not answer these at a later date as promised, I believe it was a total mess and mismanaged at many levels within the service and it came as no surprise to me when it was rejected.[253]

- Workforce Modernisation is about reducing staffing, nothing else.[254]

- The first problem with Workforce Modernisation is its title. Everyone could see right from the outset that the proposals have nothing to do with 'modernising' the service. The sole aim is to save money by cutting the wages and pensions of prison staff.[255]

31.  The presentation of the Workforce Modernisation plans by the Ministry of Justice was severely, and universally, criticised:

- I attended the principal officers presentation at the Hilton Hotel in Birmingham, where Mr Wheatley and Mr Wilkinson gave a scripted view of how our rank would benefit from the reforms. However, their knowledge of the reforms, and how it would impact on the rank, crashed around their ears when staff asked straight- forward operational questions, they clearly had no idea of the work carried out by the rank or its current roll within each establishment. They repeatedly stated that they would get back to us with answers to all questions they could not answer, but as there was no one there visibly taking notes it is inevitable they had no intention of answering any questions at all.[256]

- Why…did the government waste 17 million pounds trying to convince prison staff to accept WFM? That's 17 million pounds wasted which could have been spent on other things. So much for wanting to save money, this amount will now have to be clawed back from somewhere....[257]

- The letter [on workforce modernisation] sent [to] home [addresses] was a MASSIVE own goal and reeked of a desperate [Prison Service Management Board] begging for staff to say yes. I went to one of the roadshows and no one there could give any answers to questions that were put in a reasonable constructive fashion, all we got was "that [will] be down to your governor to decide" and "that will be down to the JES [job evaluation system]." It was nonsense.[258]

32.  Some contributors believed that the rejection of Workforce Modernisation programme by the Prison Governor's Association (PGA) was confirmation that the proposals were inadequate:

…the [Prison Officers Association] rejected WFM, which is correct, but you haven't mentioned that the PGA also rejected WFM by a 2 to 1 majority. I think this tells us how bad WFM really is that even the management can't be convinced![259]

33.  A number of contributors felt that change was needed, and some expressed concern that the rejection of the Workforce Modernisation proposals would lead the Ministry of Justice to stereotype them as reactionaries. Trust in management had been damaged:

- What should be realised is that prison officers know they are not immune to change nor are they resistant to it. What we are very good at is knowing when a cut is a cut too far. Prison officers know that to run a prison properly, it needs numbers and it needs resources. Lack of staff means lack of control.[260]

- I was really looking forward to WFM, it promised many exciting changes, but what a dismal disappointment.[261]

- [Having rejected Workforce Modernisation] our lamentable 'management' can claim that prison staff are standing in the way of 'modernisation'. If we tell a prisoner a lie, we have to be accountable and would lose all trust and credibility and be held in contempt. Why does our management feel we should react any differently?[262]

- All WFM has served to do is make us mistrust the MOJ and heads of the prison service, no one believes anything you say now, and trying to blackmail us with the economic climate is tantamount to bullying.[263]

34.  Titans received a mixed reception. Some contributors believed they would simply be 'warehouses' for prisoners, others though the model may work in certain conditions:

- I believe that the impact of titan jails will largely be negative. Reports from the USA and France suggest that Titan jails provide few if any of the benefits that the government hopes for. They will place prisoners further from their communities, access to them will be difficult for visitors, and no, matter how much the government may say otherwise, the perception, and probably the reality, will be that we will be warehousing prisoners in an impersonal and non-constructive environment.[264]

- We need to be very careful about where the Titans are sited in order to ensure as good a balance as possible between offender family access and the ability to recruit officers into them. If sites are identified largely on the notional cost of land and not in consideration of travelling distances of employees there could be a major cost down the line in terms of recruitment and retention. The size of these establishments could be their Achilles' heel not just from an 'Offender experience' view but also staffing. On the other hand, they would offer the potential to develop staff across a wider range of roles without needing to re-locate to larger establishments…The main message is that siting them is going to be a critical success factor and all factors need to be consulted on prior to deciding the 'where'.[265]

35.  A focus group of ex-offenders and families who posted some conclusions on the forum believed Titans would have negative consequences:

- The ex-offenders and offenders' families felt that prison officers would become containment manager and nothing else. They felt that there is hardly time to develop a rapport with the offenders with the current numbers and so if Titans come about, how will this help rehabilitation at all? They felt that Titan prisons would exacerbate the problems that prisons and prison officers currently face. Our focus group also felt that the introduction of Titan prison would lead to staff becoming de-motivated and unable to fulfil any role adequately never mind that of rehabilitation. This would then have a knock of affect for the offenders and families.[266]

36.  Overall the large number of public sector officers contributing to the forums believed the combination of the fact that Titans would be large prisons and private sector operations had implications for their success:

- In regard to TITAN prisons—REMEMBER MANCHESTER, how would you like to have an incident happen on a similar scale in a TITAN? The Minister of Justice should remember, the more eggs in one basket, if dropped—the more damage is caused.[267]

- As for Titan jails, please read cattle markets (anyone seen US jails where they have about 120 prisoners in a dorm!!) staffed by poorly trained and poorly paid security guards from the private sector. Good luck.[268]

- Titan prisons will most likely be run for profit by the Private Sector so my opinion is of little consequence. Only when the public sector gets a Tornado call out [emergency call in the event of major unrest] will we have any opinion.[269]

- Due to understaffing for profit, there are clear control issues which are manifested by the private prisons losing control and public sector prison staff having to be called to intervene. That proposed Titan prisons are to be the domain of the private sector is an invitation to mass indiscipline which will result in loss of life.[270]

- For some years now it has been public knowledge that there have been problems with getting private companies interested in tendering for UK prison services. With only a handful of providers operating in the UK, there is little real competition between private providers. It has been suggested that companies involved in the UK got their fingers burnt and are unwilling to be further involved, as profit levels are not as high as they thought they would be. To counter this lack of interest from the private sector, Lord Carter recommended in one of his many reports that privatisation should not be limited to failing prisons and that clusters of prisons or even whole areas should be put out for tender. We have already seen the creation of prison clusters and the Titan project appears to be yet another step along the way to further privatisation and cost-cutting within the Service. However, you can bet that the first major disturbance within a privatised Titan prison will be sorted out by public sector staff putting their necks on the line, as usual.[271]

What will be the impact of 'market testing' poorly performing prisons?

37.  This thread was viewed 1,753 times and attracted 31 posts. All contributors agreed that the announcement of the market testing proposals would have a negative impact on staff morale and relations with management:

- I feel very let down, the staff here feel very let down…[272]

- The morale of staff will certainly be affected at those named Prisons for Market Testing, but I would suggest that this is now nationwide as we are not sure who will be next. We will never be able to compete with the Private Sector unless we stop what initiatives we are providing and provide what they provide i.e.: warehouses. I have 25yrs service and have had enough of being battered…[273]

- [an officer at one of the prisons selected for market testing] Most of the staff feel they are being sold off as furniture and fittings!...I do believe that no matter what bid we put in, we will be made an example of and there will be more prisons to follow. We have worked hard over the last few months since our inspectorate report and have moved back up the 'prison league tables'. I used to feel proud to wear my black and white uniform!!!!![274]

- As a serving Senior Officer in a Market tested Prison I would say that threats of "private sector" do not make me work harder as I am already running around at 100 miles per hour doing a multitude of tasks. Prison Officers on the whole do not oppose change and efficiency and they are not political animals. There is no need for threats. I feel that Service Level agreements and consultation are the way forward. If the Prison Service feel a Prison is not performing up to scratch by all means do reviews on working practices and management structures but do not make threats to staff as we have enough stress to deal with without our employers adding more.[275]

38.  A number of contributors queried the rationale for selecting HMP Birmingham and HMP Wellingborough for market testing:

- I am serving at one of the prisons set for market testing for poor performing, I honestly believe that this prison is being punished due to the refusal of WFM. I believe that we were chosen because of a negative Inspector of Prisons report from last August…this report is nearly a year out of date. My prison has improved and we have moved up the national list to the placing of 60—how can we be poor performing? We have also won the Investors in People award recently, have we gained this because we are poor performing? It is the government and the prison service that are poor performing…I firmly believe that my prison is being made an example of, and I am only one of many upset, and stressed staff who will fight to keep the prison public.[276]

- Mr Straw stated that the two prisons "selected" for the market test are performing consistently badly. How has he come to this & how long does a prison have to "perform poorly" to be considered as consistent? Does poor performance mean costly?[277]

- A major issue in deciding what is classed as a "Poor Performing" prison appears to be the HMCIP Report. Yet, if you read a lot of the reports which have a negative aspect, the Chief Inspector, Anne Owers, regularly puts the reason for the [negative aspect as] a lack of investment. Why does the Prison Department and Government use parts of these reports from HMCIP to attack hardworking frontline staff with threats of privatisation yet ignore the parts of the report which call for more investment?[278]

- Market testing is designed for one purpose—to drive down cost. Forget the issue of poorly performing prisons; statistics can be used to produce whatever picture you want. The weighted scorecard only reflects which prisons are most creative with their reports, the ones at the top being most creative. It is important to note that the private sector prisons were recently removed from the scorecard, and, therefore, the companies running them, who may be successful with a bid for Birmingham, may already be running a failing prison—or at the very least may be running a prison that would be lower on the scorecard than Birmingham.[279]

39.  Similarly, contributors considered market testing was aimed at encouraging the private sector, and may not be a level playing field for all sectors:

- THE ONLY reason to involve the private sector is to save costs. By wanting the involvement of the Private Sector it cannot argue this. Jack Straw will say this is not the primary reason—instead stating that the offer to tender poor performing LEVEL 2 jails is so the public get a better service. This on face value looks good, but unfortunately Mr Straw's points are destroyed when you look at the recent WFM offer dialogue. It was made clear that if we did not accept the package on offer (and therefore proving to the treasury that the cost reduction asked of the service is now in place for the future) there would be no option but to 'market test poor performing prisons' this was the threat made at the time, and true to their words they have announced contestability.[280]

Does the announcement of 1,500 prisons resolve concerns over the creation of Titan prisons?

40.  This question/thread attracted 566 views and received 8 posts. While the abandonment of Titan prisons was generally welcomed, the majority of the contributors thought that 1,500 was too large:

- 1500 spaces isn't as bad as the originally thought 2500 space Titans but it is still far to large, and flies in the face of lots of research and information available about what makes a good training prison (size wise).[281]

- From the perspective of Mental Health Inreach Teams, this will be no better. 1,500 is still way too big.[282]

41.  However, a contributor thought that 1,500 would be manageable, given the Prison Service has experience of jails of a similar size:

- I am pleased that the titan prison plan has been put to rest. I, like many others thought that such a large establishment would be too difficult and complex to manage safely. A number of prisons with a population close to that of existing large establishments is a better option. We already know what it takes to run prisons of this size.[283]

42.  Another contributor queried the economics behind the new plans:

- Mr. Straw has now, through economic necessity scrapped the building of 3 Titan prisons and replaced them with 5 "smaller" prisons of 1,500 capacity which Mr. Straw states represents the optimal long term balance between VFM [value for money] and operational effectiveness. I am therefore left wondering as to how this could possibly be the case, given that the 'economies of scale' Mr. Straw envisaged with the Titan prisons would effectively be lost?[284]

How can officers and senior management build relationships with the local community?

43.  This thread received 666 views and 9 posts. Some contributors believed that local communities were simply not interested in building relationships with a prison and there was, therefore, little senior management could do;

- I think the question should be ''Is the local community ready to build up relationships with prisons" I speak to people in the community about what I do & nobody is interested about what happens to prisoners. The vast majority think we should lock them up & throw away the key! Is this the right attitude , maybe not but that is what they think.[285]

- Why is so much time and effort being put into this? The local community in general does not want close links with their local prison, they do not want it there and they just want to totally deny it's existence. If they are more informed it usually makes them angry because the perceived lack of discipline and the prisoner's perceived perks and privileges.[286]

- I don't think relations with the local community should be a high priority for the prison service. Local residents have little interest in prisoners living near them.[287]

44.  Their cynicism appeared to be borne out by the response of a member of the public:

- We live near a local prison and I run a local community website. As far as I know there is not a single mention of the local prison on the community website and to be honest it wouldn't be anything we would be proud of. About the only way the prison affects us is that the local bus out from the city stops at the prison and if I travel by bus it just makes me think: "I should be more careful where I put my wallet when going out".[288]

45.  However, some contributors could see a role for prisons in crime prevention, particularly with young people, cleaning local areas and resettlement:

- I know that the service has a part to play in reducing re-offending, but we fail to see the part we can play in the prevention of crime and offending, especially in the area of youth crime. Most large public sector bodies have youth and school liaison, police, fire service etc. Even some private companies such as rail track and northern rail have dedicated teams going out to talk to young people. If you want to talk about crime, bring in the police, if you want to talk about arson, bring in the fire service. If you want to let young people and the public know about punishment/prison, then bring in a prison officer.[289]

- One area which I think is good & funding should always be given to is the 'prison me no way ' project, where staff visit schools & youth centres talking about prison life etc.[290]

…where possible links need to be forged in order that resettlement needs can be met i.e. housing/possibilities of work etc. It could be that working parties from a prison could and should be used to improve the environment for local people with the removal of rubbish, cleaning/painting/decorating of local institutes, repairs of the canal system etc. Then locals will see that the prison does have a use for them personally.[291]

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