Inquiry blames inadequate staff training for break-outs

Tes Editorial

Inadequate staff training was partly to blame for the security lapses leading to two major prison break-outs, the inquiry into the Parkhurst escape has found.

The report by General Sir John Learmont, published this week, strongly criticises the Prison Service's record on training, and says the reality falls far short of stated aims.

The findings have been strongly endorsed by the Prison Officers' Association, which has consistently argued for more cash for training, condemning present provision as "woefully inadequate". It claims officers frequently receive little or no refresher courses after completing their initial 13-week basic training.

The Learmont inquiry team found the service failed to deliver adequate training even in security, its "core business", with some staff apparently unaware even of basic procedures, suggesting those searching visitors had not always been trained for the work.

The report makes a direct link between the flaws in provision and last year's break-outs at Parkhurst and Whitemoor, and calls for deficiencies to be rectified "without delay".

Prison Service strategic priorities include "developing a well-trained, well-motivated staff with a shared commitment to the service's goals and values".

However, the Learmont inquiry found those aspirations were not always translated into action. Training was regularly dropped "when other pressures increase", and many staff reported doing jobs for which they had not been trained.

In a damning indictment of the hidden costs of scrimping on training, the inquiry team discovered expensive and relatively sophisticated equipment was rendered useless because staff did not know how to use it properly.

Among staff on governor grades, around 100 nationally - any of whom might have been temporarily in command of a prison as duty governor - had not been trained in the management of serious incidents.

The report, which uncovered a "chapter of errors at every level and naivety that defies belief" leading to the escape from Parkhurst, includes a number of suggestions for improving training within a package of recommendations.

It warmly praises initial work towards identifying core skills and knowledge required by prison officers and some other grades, and recommends the extension of the initiative to all grades and ranks to help in the planning of training.

The Prison Service target of six days' training for each member of staff in 1995-6 is an improvement on previous years but is still not enough to raise professional competence to the level needed, according to the report. It suggests 14 days' annual training would be a more appropriate target, which would put the service at the top of international league tables.

The POA said extra funds were needed if improvements were to be implemented. A spokesman said: "There are significant cost implications involved here, at a time when the Prison Service is being made to cut back its budget by 8. 6 per cent over three years."

April 1992: Further and Higher Education Act removes colleges from LEA control and raises doubts about who should provide prison education.

July 1992: Home Office accepts independent consultants' advice to put prison education service run by FE colleges through LEAs before the Act - out to private tender.

September 1992: Department for Education says 1,500 prison education staff jobs would not be protected under Home Office plans to commercialise the service.

Jan 1993: Kent County Council wins judicial review, delaying Home Office plans to "privatise" the service for at least six months.

February 1993: Colleges and universities sweep board in race for contracts, allaying initial fears of redundancy but warning that conditions of service would change.

March 1993: High Court rules against Home Office and backs lecturers' demands to remain on existing terms and conditions under new contracts.

August 1993: Prison Reform Trust report attacks Home Office for "chaos and botched-up attempts to privatise the service and leaving 58 prisons without any clear education provider.

May 1994: In the first ruling of its kind by an industrial tribunal, a lecturer supported by the union NATFHE wins case of "unfair dismissal" under European Union's Transfer of Undertakings regulations which govern industrial relations.

Since May 1994 conditions and pay have been changed as new employers took a tough line. A NATFHE report showed that many full-time posts were change to part-time and pay rates were often halved from around Pounds 14 to Pounds 7 an hour. Contracts with the Home Office are up for renewal in 1998.

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