“In terms of what we’re doing to address the frontline staff in our prisons, we’ve actually increased by 20% in the last year the number of frontline [prison] officers.”
During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 7 September, science and technology minister Michelle Donelan claimed that the number of “frontline” prison officers has “increased by 20% in the last year”.
This isn’t correct. The Ministry of Justice confirmed to Full Fact that this figure refers to the increase in the headcount number of band 3-5 officers appointed in the year to June 2023, compared to the previous year.
Once officers leaving the prison service and other staff changes are taken into account, the overall increase in the number of full-time equivalent prison officers at this level over this period was 3.2%.
If a minister makes a false or misleading claim on broadcast media they should take responsibility for ensuring it is appropriately corrected, and make efforts to ensure the correction is publicly available to anyone who might have heard the claim. We’ve contacted Ms Donelan for comment and will update this piece if we receive a response.
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How has the number of prison officers changed?
When we asked the Ministry of Justice about Ms Donelan’s comments, it told us the figure she used referred to “band 3-5 officers”. This includes prison officers, supervising officers and custodial managers.
According to the latest headcount figures, 4,898 band 3-5 officers were appointed in the year to June 2023 (including both direct recruits and conversions from existing staff)—an increase of 20.6% on the number appointed in the year to June 2022.
But this isn’t the same as the increase in overall number of these officers, as it doesn’t factor in officers who left, or other staff changes.
Over the same period, 3,090 band 3-5 officers left the prison service—a 15.4% decrease compared to the previous year.
The published data for the overall number of prison officers only shows the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) officers, not headcount as quoted by Ms Donelan.
The number of FTE officers increased by 701 in the year to June 2023—a 3.2% rise on the previous year. These figures factor in leavers and joiners, as well as those who moved to a different grade, or switched from full-time to part-time roles.
Looking solely at the number of band 3-4 prison officers (that is, excluding supervising officers and custodial managers), the number of FTE staff saw a slightly larger increase of 4.4%. However, clearly this is still much lower than the increase claimed by Ms Donelan.
Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew
We took a stand for good information.
The MoJ provided us with the correct statistics and we have been told that Michelle Donelan misspoke during the interview.
We have asked Michelle Donelan's department if they plan to take any steps to publicly correct what she said and did not receive a response.
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