Landmark report calls for urgent overhaul of the prison system

Community is calling for a root and stem overhaul of the prison system as part of a landmark new report on the state of the sector which has been produced by leading policy strategy and opinion research consultancy Public First.

In the new report, ‘Beyond bars: strategies to tackle the prisons crisis’, the union – which represents thousands of justice and custodial workers in Britain’s private prisons – calls for urgent action to tackle chronic prison overcrowding, a recruitment and retention crisis in the custodial workforce, and improved prisoner rehabilitation and resettlement.

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • Development of a national plan to reduces assaults on staff, including changes to ensure tougher responses to assaults and improved health and safety across the sector
  • Increased use of community sentences with improved and expanded the use of electronic tagging
  • The introduction of Minimum Safe Staffing levels in all private prison contracts
  • Increased pay for all custodial staff and the introduction of retention payments
  • Expansion of the use of residential rehabilitation in the community for some offenders with addiction issues as an alternative to incarceration
  • An improved, locally-directed recruitment application process for prison staff

Community General Secretary Roy Rickhuss said:

“This landmark new report sets out a pathway for change for our prisons system. Over the last fourteen years our justice sector has lurched from crisis to crisis due to a perfect storm of interlinked factors: the government’s crippling cuts to the prison service; a lack of leadership due to a revolving door of Justice Secretaries and prison ministers; the impact and legacy of Covid; and a rising prison population.

“All the while, it’s been the workers on the frontline who have suffered, with prison officers and custodial staff being asked to hold together a crumbling system even in the face of increased threats to their own health and safety at work. The message from our members on the frontline, experts and the general public is a clear one – we can’t go on like this.

“The recommendations outlined in our new report offer a comprehensive strategy for the renewal of our justice sector which protects frontline staff and the public, and relieves pressure on an ailing system through effective pathways for prisoner rehabilitation.”

Adrian Axtell, Community Union’s National Officer for the Justice Sector, said:

“This important new report is the culmination of Community’s longstanding campaign for improved health and safety at work for prison officers and custodial. It sets out how our creaking prison system has created an unsafe environment for our members, and that without major, generational reform of the sector, chronic overcrowding and the epidemic of violence against prison staff we have seen over recent years will only get worse.

“Our new report is bold – and it needs to be. But it also shows that both the British public and a range of experts are firmly behind our members in their call for change. With a General Election on the horizon, it’s important that political parties engage with our recommendations and show the ambition needed to finally drag the prison system out of the mire of chaos it has been stuck in for far too long.”

Kate Dearden, Head of Research, Policy & Politics at Community Union, said:

“Our new report has been produced in close collaboration with our members in the justice sector, and shines a light on the huge challenges they have been facing over the last decade or more. It also shows that what our prison officers and custodial staff want to see is backed up the public and experts.

“We stand ready to work with stakeholders – including the next government – to take forward our recommendations on ending the prison overpopulation crisis, recruiting and retaining frontline staff, keeping justice workers and the public safe, and reducing pressure on a creaking system by improving deterrence and community rehabilitation.”

Yasmeen Sebbana, Associate Director at Public First and author of the report, said:

“The scale of the prisons overpopulation crisis requires long-term thinking from political parties – they must be able to solve the immediate issues and ensure that the system becomes more resilient in the long term. How can we ensure that custodial sector workers feel valued and protected at work? And what levers can the Government pull to reduce levels of reoffending? The findings of this report present a pathway for political parties to consider when crafting their pitch on justice policy ahead of the next general election”

You can read the report here