Prison Officers: Working Conditions

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Gordon Henderson Gordon Henderson Conservative, Sittingbourne and Sheppey 11:00 am, 2nd May 2018

Yes and yes. That is just another example of the way in which those in the Prison Service—prison officers in particular but also other prison staff—are treated as second-class citizens of the public service. It is time for us to treat them in exactly the same way as police officers and firefighters.

Equalising the retirement age, for example, would help to make the role of a prison officer more attractive, as would increasing the salary structure. It is difficult to recruit prison staff because they are paid less than other public sector workers, such as border staff. A lot of prison officers who leave the service become border staff. Is it any wonder that a very small minority of corrupt prison officers are tempted to earn money on the side by turning a blind eye to criminal activity in prisons?

As I have pointed out before in the House, it is particularly difficult to attract staff to work in Sheppey’s prisons, because local people can earn more working in a warehouse than they can working in a prison. I believe that my prison staff are worth more money, and they should be paid what they are worth. There is also a frustration among prison officers that they are seen simply as turnkeys. That, too, is wrong. They are not jailers. They are not prison guards. They are prison officers. They should be treated with the respect that their position deserves.

One way to enhance esteem for prison officers would be to make better use of them in other roles, such as in the provision of education and healthcare to prisoners. An inmate is more likely to respect a prison officer if they know that that officer is helping them in some way. That is simply human nature.

I am not expecting—surprise, surprise—the Minister to wave a magic wand and to deliver immediately all the measures that I have suggested. However, it would be nice if, in his response, he could at least acknowledge the important role of prison officers and pledge to start some of the reforms needed to make their working conditions better.

Finally, I have another special request to make of the Minister—Liz Saville Roberts touched on this earlier. I was invited by my local prison officers to spend a day with them on the frontline. I agreed straightaway. I thought it would be a good way of understanding better the conditions in which they work. But I made one condition: I would join them only if I was able to wear a uniform and to be treated in the same way as a prison officer, so I could really know what was going on at the coalface. I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members with prisons in their constituencies would like to do the same. Unfortunately, the Prison Service ruled that I would not be allowed to take part in such an exercise. I would be really grateful if the Minister could encourage the National Offender Management Service to change its mind.