PLA responds to Justice Committee inquiry into the prison operational workforce

Home > PLA responds to Justice Committee inquiry into the prison operational workforce

07 February 2023

This blog outlines the PLA’s response to the recent Justice Committee inquiry into the prison operational workforce, which draws attention to the impact of prison officer shortages on education.

At the end of last year, the Justice Committee opened an inquiry into the state of the prison workforce. The Committee wants to understand why prison officers are leaving in such high numbers, and how this is impacting prison regimes. It also wants to find out what recruitment and retention methods are being used, and whether the prison system will be able to cope with the expected increase in the prison population.

The Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) has responded, highlighting the impact of prison officer shortages on prison education.

Difficulties in recruiting and retaining of prison staff, and resultant levels of understaffing, have a significant impact on the delivery of prison education.

Accessing education in prison increases the chances of securing employment on release – a key focus of the Prisons Strategy White Paper – and reduces the chances of reoffending. It also improves wellbeing, self-esteem, and confidence.

However, the quality of prison education is not good enough, and people in prison are struggling to access it.

Prison officer shortages mean that:

  • Prisoners cannot be safely unlocked or moved around the establishment and so cannot attend, or are late for, education, skills, and work.
  • Staff are too busy to build positive relationships with prisoners. This can have a detrimental impact on prisoners’ engagement with education, as a supportive officer can help motivate and encourage participation.

To deliver education in prison effectively, it is essential that:

  • There are sufficient prison officers overall – and enough experienced prison officers in particular – to ensure that prisoners can attend education and training consistently and on time.
  • Prison officers have the capacity and knowledge to support prisoners to continuously engage with education.
  • Prison officers understand the benefits of prison education and what they can do to support prisoners to participate in it. This requires the right initial training and ongoing continuing professional development.

The PLA also argued that in general more training and development opportunities should be made available to officers, contributing to the creation of a learning culture within prisons.

The PLA also called for a more holistic approach to prison workforce strategy, highlighting the concurrent workforce crisis in prison teaching.

…alongside their work on prison officers, the Ministry of Justice needs to look at the prison workforce as a whole and develop a strategy to work with education providers to ensure that we recruit, retain, and develop the prison teachers that we need to deliver high-quality education in prison.

See the PLA’s full response here.

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