With violence in prison reaching record highs, it’s reassuring to see Justice Secretary Liz Truss committing to recruit 2,500 more prison officers. But with pay being £9 an hour, only 10 weeks of training and no requirement of minimum qualifications, fears are that it won’t be enough and according to John Podmore, a former prison governor, the work force is where the key lies to our current prison crisis. Staff-prisoner relationships are critical to helping offenders seek rehabilitation, coming off drugs and enrolling in prison education programs.
Reoffending rates haven’t dropped in the past 10 years and cost us £15bn a year with half those released, re-offending within a year. The key motive behind this being lack of education and drugs so the White Paper is also introducing a testing system on entry and release to monitor how education levels are increasing, with a league table for all prisons showing how well they are doing at improving basic education. Prisoners will also be tested for drugs on arrival, with regular blind tests throughout their sentence to monitor addiction rates.
Statistics tell us that 26% of women and 16% of men said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody and 49% of women prisoners suffered from anxiety and depression, so it’s good to see the Department of Health are being recruited to initiate a mental health strategy, let’s just hope it filters down to all those in need, including the officers who are dealing with increasing suicide rates.
As we know from PCF’s work in prison, gaining employment once through the gate is another huge factor that helps reduce reoffending, so it will be interesting to know more about the new prison apprenticeship programs and the employment strategy which will commence while offenders are still inside, to ensure they have the appropriate training for the current employment market.
All this reform has a positive outlook but the reality of it will be a lot harsher so it’s only once all these proposals are in place that we’ll be able to see any results for prison reform. Liz Truss, we’ll be watching this space…