Happy staff, better prisons

11 March 2016

Employees are an organisation’s most valuable asset. This is especially true of organisations that rely on people to achieve their goals. Prisons are fully dependent on their officers and other staff members to keep prisoners safe and prevent them from escaping, as well as to deliver courses and activities that will help inmates through their process of rehabilitation.

Studies have underlined the importance of prisoner-staff relationships on an inmate’s perception of their ‘prison experience’.  Harsher prison conditions are often associated with higher levels of recidivism.

It is therefore worrying that indicators show the prison workforce is not doing well. Crude metrics that can be used to assess levels of motivation, morale and job satisfaction do not paint a positive picture of what is happening in prisons.

Sickness absence can be used as a proxy for motivation and morale within the workforce. These rates are much higher on average amongst the prison workforce than amongst the public-sector workforce, which is already about 50 per cent higher than in the private sector. This causes inefficiencies within the prison regime. The NAO shows that if the variation of staff-sickness rates was reduced amongst prisons it would save £9.6 million in staff costs each year.

Conversely, studies have shown that presenteeism amongst prison officers (i.e. going to work even if unwell) is also a problem. Researchers from the University of Bedfordshire, studying work and wellbeing in the prison service, found that 53 per cent of prison officers interrogated in their survey always feel pressured to attend work when unwell.

Prisons also face issues of staff retention and recruitment. Turnover rates are high and vacancies are not being filled. This increases the pressure on those who are working in prisons. One study found that 57.2 per cent of surveyed prison officers claim to be working between 38 and 48 hours, which is above their normal contracted hours. Moreover, 41.3 per cent say they work over 48 hours per week which is above the maximum average laid out in the ‘working time directive’.

In his speech on prisons, the Prime Minister recognised the challenges that lie ahead in improving prison performance metrics. Reform’s forthcoming report on the subject will underline the importance of having a wide range of more innovative metrics to assess performance – including one on staff-wellbeing.

Eleonora Harwich, Researcher, Reform



Nic & chris

15 March, 2016

Super agree. Robust analysis :)