MoJ taking prison officers out of jails to fill Whitehall knowledge gaps, claim governors
Perm sec Richard Heaton slammed for “less than satisfactory” response to prison pressures
The Ministry of Justice has been accused of taking prison officers out of jails and moving them to jobs in Whitehall in order to implement the department’s reform programme.
In an open letter published today, the Prison Governors Association president Andrea Albutt warned that this was unsustainable at a time when “many prisons are in crisis” due to unexpected increases in the prison population and budget and staffing pressures.
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Albutt accused the Ministry of Justice of having done “nothing tangible… to ease the burden”.
The MoJ is currently implementing reforms that include the creation of Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service to replace the National Offender Management Service, as well as recruiting more prison officers.
Albutt said the department hailed these reforms as “the answer to all our woes” but the decision to separate policy from operations was “a perverse one and certainly not cost effective when we are given messages that budgets remain very stretched”.
She added that the MoJ team implementing the reform plan was made up of around 470 civil servants, but lacked the operational knowledge of the prison system.
“As the policy leads are predominantly generalist civil servants from other government departments, it leaves a gaping hole in operational knowledge,” she stated.
“How has this hole been filled? By taking operational experts… out of prisons and putting them into MoJ. At a time when SMTs [senior management teams] in prisons need competence, resilience and stability to deal with the intolerable pressure they are under, we are finding that temporary promotion into SMTs could be as high as 30%.”
Albutt said that she raised this with MoJ permanent secretary Richard Heaton last week but his response was “less than satisfactory”. She claimed he compared the measures to “having IT experts working on IT reform”.
The split between policy and implementation also meant the MoJ handled all prison officer recruitment, according to Albutt, meaning new staff were only handed over to HM Prison and Probation Service once they have completed training.
“Governor development also sits in MoJ and is headed by people who have absolutely no concept of what being a governor means and requires; it is so much more than general leadership,” she added.
With many prisons in crisis, Albutt said “you cannot separate policy and delivery when dealing with such a complex environment as ours”.
She added: “I will lobby ministers on this very topic in October when we meet with [justice minister] Sam Gyimah for the first time since the election.”
Responding to Albutt, an MoJ spokesman defending the reform programme.
“We know that our prisons have faced a number of long-standing challenges, which is why we have taken immediate action to boost prison officer numbers and have created Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service,” he said.
"We need to create calm and ordered environments to help ensure effective rehabilitation, and we continue to work closely with the unions and all staff to help achieve these vital reforms and make prisons places of safety and reform."
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