I regularly read or otherwise hear MPs and representatives of the Prison Officers’ Association claim that officers in British prisons are well-trained, professional individuals, who are dedicated to the job and all that entails. However, earlier this year a question was raised in the House of Commons, enquiring how many members of prison staff have been dismissed in recent years.
The response given was that an average of over 430 members of staff have been dismissed in each of the last five years, with the most common reason being for ‘medical inefficiency’. Well, I have previously spoken to officers about what is expected of them physically and I am told that some officers are not subject to a minimum standard of fitness at all. What’s more, they also tell me that their fitness test comes in the form of a ‘beep test’ (which you might remember from school), but that the minimum expectation is equivalent to a fast walk or light jog. And if an officer does fail it, they get two months in which to get in better shape before they get another shot at it. Well if it takes you longer than that to manage a fast walk then I think you probably deserve to get sacked because you are certainly not capable of responding to an alarm bell. What I find shocking is that nearly 300 members of staff are dismissed for failing to achieve these standards every single year!
The next most common reason for dismissal is on the grounds of conduct. Over 110 people are sacked for this each year, (and I’m sure most of these will at some point find themselves featured on the pages of Converse) but if they are all so professional, why are so many dismissed for bad conduct?
However, the third most common reason for staff to be dismissed is actually the one which shocks me most of all. An average of 20 people a year are sacked for unsatisfactory attendance. Unsatisfactory attendance as a shift worker, in a prison. I can’t even begin to comprehend how someone can fail to turn up for work in a place like this. I totally get why they wouldn’t want to, but I definitely don’t know how anyone can think they would get away with it.
If the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Officers’ Association really think that those things demonstrate their staff to be well-trained, professional individuals who are dedicated to the job and all it entails, then it looks like the facts have been dismissed as often as their members.