Press notice No. 51 of Session 2007-08

17 November 2008/ For Immediate Release


The Role of the Prison Officer

The Justice Committee is today launching an inquiry into the role of the prison officer and its future development in the context of current government policy.

The ongoing debate on the aims of imprisonment has rarely taken account of the increased demands placed on the prison officers who have day-to-day management of prisoners. An aging prison population, the high levels of drug and alcohol abuse together with the psychiatric and other problems of many prisoners are all placing unprecedented demands on prison officers in addition to the sheer workload of an increasing prison population and the serious problem of overcrowding. Research suggests that individual officers can be crucial in influencing whether a prisoner goes on to re-offend or is released to lead a law-abiding life and good staff-prisoner relations can reduce deaths in custody and prison unrest. A prison officer is no longer simply a gaoler but an enforcer, reformer and, at times, carer; yet is required to start work after eight weeks training in contrast to the extended training periods undergone by other professionals in the criminal justice system, for example police and probation officers.

The Ministry of Justice is currently in negotiation with the Prison Officers' Association on a workplace modernisation programme. In addition, the Government aims to provide a further 13,000 prison places by 2014, 7,500 of these in Titan prisons, a new model of imprisonment for England and Wales as well as launching a scheme to further engage the third sector in reducing reoffending. These policies are likely to change the role of the prison officer and may further increase the complexity of the role.

Terms of reference of the inquiry

The Committee will concentrate on the following questions:

1. The 'ideal' prison officer:

€ How has the role of the prison officer evolved in the last two decades?
€ How should it further evolve?
€ What skills and qualities are required to fulfil the role both as it is and as it might evolve?
€ What are the advantages and disadvantages of greater specialisation amongst prison staff?

2. The training of prison officers and the impact of outside pressures:

€ How well are prison officers equipped for their roles (for example, in relationship-building)? How well are they equipped for specific roles (for example, in the juvenile estate)? How could this be improved? What ongoing development is provided?
€ How can prison staff development be maximised?
€ How can this be achieved in the current climate?
€ What impact has the creation of NOMS had on prison officer development?
€ What impact will the development of Titan prisons and the Workplace Modernisation programme have on staff development?

3. Recruitment and retention of prison officers:

€ How effective is HM Prison Service as an employer?
€ How attractive is the prison service as a career?
€ What steps should the service take to enhance its appeal and improve the prospects for development and promotion for its staff?

Call for evidence:

Written evidence should if possible be in Word or rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible€”not PDF format€”and sent by e-mail to justicecommemo@parliament.uk. The body of the e-mail must include a contact name, telephone number and postal address. The e-mail should also make clear who the submission is from. The deadline is 14 January 2009.

Submissions must address the terms of reference. They should be in the format of a self-contained memorandum and should be no more than 3,000 words. Paragraphs should be numbered for ease of reference, and the document must include an executive summary. Further guidance on the submission of evidence can be found at www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/witness.cfm.

Submissions should be original work, not previously published or circulated elsewhere, though previously published work can be referred to in a submission and submitted as supplementary material. Once submitted, your submission becomes the property of the Committee and no public use should be made of it unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee. PLEASE BEAR IN MIND THAT COMMITTEES ARE NOT ABLE TO INVESTIGATE INDIVIDUAL CASES.

The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to publish the written evidence it receives, either by printing the evidence, publishing it on the internet or making it publicly available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure; the Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.

For data protection purposes, it would be helpful if individuals wishing to submit written evidence send their contact details in a covering letter or e-mail. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000