Prison Officers: Pension Age

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:12 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 5:12 pm, 8th October 2019

Let me see if I can make some more progress, and then, if time allows, I will give way.

The Prison Service and Ministry of Justice already recognise and reward excellent staff work through a range of awards and honours, such as the Prison Service long service and good conduct medal, the prison officer of the year award and the Butler Trust awards. We are also proposing to the honours, decorations and medals committee the introduction of a new Queen’s Prison Service medal. The concept of a covenant has been raised, and I assure my hon. Friend that we are already considering whether such a covenant for prison staff would be beneficial.

The Government seek pay recommendations from the independent Prison Service pay review body. We recently accepted in full its recommendations for 2019-20, which resulted in the highest increase for prison staff in more 10 years, with band 3 prison officers—the largest group of staff—receiving a headline increase of 3%.

On the Isle of Sheppey, recognising the competitive labour market, we implemented a market supplement to support the recruitment and retention of staff. This means that the current starting salary for a prison officer at the Sheppey prisons, as well as a number of other sites in the south-east, is £27,293. After an officer has gained four years’ experience, that salary increases to just shy of £30,000.

HMPPS takes very seriously, as I think we all do, the health and safety of all staff working in prisons, whatever their age. Staff have access to on-site care teams and to an employee assistance programme that includes confidential 24-hour support, 365 days a year. They are covered by a wide range of occupational health services provided by specialist healthcare professionals. HMPPS has invested in nearly 6,000 body-worn video cameras and has started to implement the national roll-out of PAVA, which is a synthetic pepper spray. We are also introducing rigid bar handcuffs for use by prison officers as part of our continuing focus on improving safety and reducing violence.

We take attacks on our prison officers seriously. Under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, they are treated equally in law with assaults on the police and other emergency service workers. HMPPS has been working closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that they understand the impact of crimes committed in prison. In May, we published the new crime in prison referral agreement between HMPPS, the police and the CPS to provide a more consistent approach to dealing with these matters. In addition, as part of a crackdown on crime behind bars, the Government are investing £100 million through the introduction of airport-style security measures, cutting-edge technology to detect and block mobile phones, and new funding to tackle corruption. Coupled with the 4,700 additional staff recruited since 2016, that investment should have a major impact on crime behind bars.

The Government are investing £2.5 billion in 10,000 new, modern prison places and will also spend an extra £156 million next year on maintaining our existing jails. That will give us space to absorb any rise in prison population created by the increase in police officers on our streets, along with tougher sentencing for the most serious offenders. Our ambition is to create a decent, safe and secure estate that is sustainable into the future.