In November 2022, the Justice Committee launched a new inquiry to investigate workforce pressures in the prison system to which Catch22 submitted evidence that has today been published.
The prison service is facing pressure within its workforce as the numbers of prison staff leaving is on the increase, resulting in many prisons operating with understaffed teams. This has raised questions over its ability to run a safe and purposeful regime.
This inquiry examined the current state of the prison operational workforce, seeking to understand why high volumes of prison officers are leaving the prison service and the implications of staff turnover against the backdrop of existing pressures. The inquiry also explored what measures are underway to recruit and retain staff and will examine whether the prison service will be adequately resourced to manage the projected prison population increase.
Catch22 delivers offender management, rehabilitation, resettlement and gangs work in prisons and in the community. We also run several successful victims services, providing emotional and practical support to victims of crime. In 2020-2021, we worked with 26,000 service users in custody.
Our custodial service portfolio is broad, at the heart of our rehabilitative, restorative and effective systems is the belief that relationships are crucial to effective desistance from crime. Through efficient case management and the development of high-quality relationships, we focus on reducing reoffending and ensuring positive long term outcomes.
Implications of recruitment and retention challenges in prison
Staffing shortages have an impact on partner agencies ability to achieve their purpose. Often there is a dependency on prison operational workforce to enable partner agencies to fulfil their purpose. Examples of this could be where referrals into partner agencies have to filter through HMPPS colleagues or where getting access to prisoners requires an accommodating regime. Our recent experience is both of these enablers are deteriorating.
As a result we are seeing underutilization of services commissioned by HMPPS which are aimed at rehabilitation. Examples we have seen are through the low uptake of the Social Inclusion pathway which forms part of Personal Wellbeing CRS service in which the lack of HMPPS staffing has reduced resettlement needs being identified pre-release and referrals into services not being made. HMPPS are now exploring reducing the funding allocated to such rehabilitation services on the basis there isn’t an evidenced need which we dispute . Our experience of delivering resettlement support provides us with a certainty that demand is higher than ever but processes are clunky, fragmented & is overly reliant on HMPPS workforce being effective.
Reunification of the Probation service and the resulting withdrawal Through the Gate Resettlement teams has hugely impacted the third sectors ability to provide support to prisoners being released. We have seen vast reduction in staffing numbers dedicated towards resettlement (in some prisons we have seen teams that were 20+ staff members focused on resettlement now having staff numbers of 2 or 3. As a result the amount of prisoners’ needs even being assessed has dropped.
Amongst other suggestions made in the full response, Catch22 suggests that, to improve recruitment levels both in terms of the number and quality of candidates, the prison service needs to implement:
- Expansion of schemes such as Unlocked where there’s development opportunities and the sector is seen as aspirational.
- Review of the current vetting process. It’s currently slow & clunky meaning that theres a big drop out rate due to candidates finding alternative employment. Streamlining this and providing a way of candidates to know where they are on the process will likely result in lower dropouts.
- Also, a review as to vetting restrictions fulfil are reflective of today’s society. In our experience we have seen candidates rejected from roles for what feels relatively minor offending past. An overly risk adverse approach prevents the HMPPS from tapping in to huge talent pools of individuals with lived experience. A more pragmatic and person-centered approach could improve this.