Record number of prison officers recruited amid jails safety drive
The Government says they are on track to meet a target of adding 2,500 new officers by the end of next year.
Prison officers are being hired in record numbers under a recruitment drive launched as part of efforts to tackle the jail safety crisis.
At the end of June there were 18,755 “full-time equivalent” staff in frontline roles – a net increase of 868 since January and the highest number in post since September 2013.
The Government said the figures show it is on track to meet a target of adding 2,500 new officers by the end of next year.
Campaigners welcomed the rise but highlighted the number of experienced staff leaving the Prison Service.
Officer numbers have repeatedly come under scrutiny as rising levels of violence have engulfed much of the prison estate in England and Wales.
Last month, Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, warned that staffing levels in many establishments are too low to maintain order.
The rise revealed on Thursday relates to officers, specialists, supervising officers and custodial managers in public sector jails.
Although the number in these employment bands is increasing, it remains well below the level of nearly 25,000 in 2010.
In the year to the end of June, 1,770 officers in frontline posts left the service, with half (50.3%) resigning.
Ministry of Justice figures also showed a fall in the number of operational support personnel, who carry out duties such as checking in and supervising visitors, patrolling perimeters and searching prisoners’ property.
There were 4,478 full-time equivalent staff in these roles at the end of June, the lowest number recorded since the current data series started seven years ago.
Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said: “While the increase in prison officers is welcome, the Government is not even halfway to meeting its target of an additional 2,500 prison officers by the end of 2018.
“The numbers recruited has to be balanced against the high numbers of experienced officers leaving the service.
“The drop in operational staff will also place additional pressure on frontline officers, and limit the time available to them to engage with prisoners on the wing.”
Justice Secretary David Lidington said: “I am delighted to welcome the new prison officers, who join thousands of dedicated and hard-working staff undertaking important work to keep our prisons and the public safe.
“These record numbers show our recruitment efforts are working. Boosting the front line is critical to achieving safety regimes and I am committed to building on these figures.”
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