Young Prison Officers At Risk Of Being Groomed By Cat A Prisoners
As of mid-2023, out of the total prison officers, 31% have been in their roles for less than 36 months. This marks a substantial increase from 2015, where only 6% of officers were relatively new to their positions. Experts are warning that these newer recruits, who require additional support, training, and mentoring, are at a very real risk of being influenced by experienced inmates. This presents new dangers in prisons that are already stretched thin in terms of resources and staffing.
The staffing crisis in the prison sector is reflected in these figures, with the Prison and Probation Service losing staff at an alarming rate. Labour has called for urgent action to address the challenges facing prison staff. The issue of staffing and morale among officers has been brought into sharper focus following the escape of suspected terrorist Daniel Khalfe from Wandsworth prison.
Category A prisons, which house the most dangerous criminals, including terrorists and murderers, are particularly affected. For instance, at HMP Belmarsh, 27% of officers had fewer than three years of experience as of June 2023. This is a significant increase from 2015, where only 5% of officers were in this category.
The chief inspector of prisons has noted that while some new recruits perform outstandingly, there is a pressing need for more support and mentoring from experienced staff. The lack of mentoring can lead to situations where prisoners end up imparting key knowledge to new recruits, which can be problematic.
The Prison Officers’ Association has highlighted the loss of almost 100,000 years of cumulative experience since 2010, emphasizing the high staff turnover and the lack of experienced personnel on prison wings. This situation is leading to new recruits struggling to find experienced colleagues to learn from.
The Prison Service is attempting to address these challenges by increasing starting salaries for officers and equipping them with tools such as incapacitant spray, body-worn cameras, and X-ray body scanners. These measures aim to improve the retention rates of prison staff, which are reportedly now improving.
However, the high proportion of inexperienced staff in high-security prisons remains a stark and worrying statistic, underscoring the need for more experienced and knowledgeable staff to ensure safety and effective rehabilitation work with prisoners. The government is being urged to take more robust action to prevent this situation from worsening and to fulfill its duty of care to both prison staff and inmates.