Jo Stevens MP

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Justice Questions: Prison Officer Recruitment and Pre sentence reports for the courts.

Today in Justice Questions I asked the Justice Secretary what she is doing to improve the numbers of prison officers recruited in our public prisons, and called on the Justice Secretary to hold an urgent review quality of pre-sentence reports for the courts following the Government's privatisation of the probation sector.

The number of frontline officers working in public-sector prisons has fallen over the last year, despite Ministry of Justice plans to recruit additional staff to help respond to the highest levels of violence, suicide and self-injury since recording practices began.

Statistics show that there were 14,689 frontline officers (full time equivalent) in England and Wales in June 2016, down from 15,110 a year earlier. This leaves prisons with barely more frontline staff than the lows of 2014, which prompted the Ministry of Justice to embark on a major recruitment exercise.

As the prison population has grown and frontline officer numbers have fallen, safety in jails has deteriorated significantly.

I took the opportunity to ask the newly appointed Justice Secretary what she had planned that differed from her predecessor in recruitment more people into the prison service. 

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My first question to the Justice Secretary:

Shadow Justice Minister Jo Stevens:
Having created the toxic conditions for record levels of violence, drug finds and deaths across the prison system by reducing the number of prison officers by a third - the former prisons minister spent much of his time at the dispatch box this year proudly telling me about his department's successful recruitment drive.

So can the Justice Secretary explain why we have 421 fewer full time equivalent frontline prison officers working in our public prisons than we did a year ago and what is she going to do differently, to attract desperately needed new recruits?

Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss:

I fully acknowledge that we do have violence and dangers in our prisons. I think the levels of violence is unacceptable, I am determined to deal with this issue and I will be laying out my plans very shortly.

 

My second question to the Justice Secretary:

Shadow Justice Minister Jo Stevens:
Since the government's probation privatisation, concerns have repeatedly been raised about the quality of pre-sentence reports for the courts as a result of arbitrary targets set. The Probation Inspectorate described it this month as a persistent problem leading to 'inappropriate sentences' being handed down.

Vital safeguarding checks such as domestic violence checks with police and child protection checks with children's services are not taking place prior to sentencing.

Will the Justice Secretary today commit to an urgent review, so that the public, probation professionals and Sentencers can have confidence that when convicted criminals are being sentenced, those deciding the sentences have all the necessary evidence available to them?

Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss:

Our probation services do absolutely vital work and the Minister responsible for probation is looking into this issue. But I would point out that those on shorter sentences get much more support thanks to the new probation contracts.

You can watch the exchange here:

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