Call for degree-educated prison officers

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The Independent Online

Prison officers should be educated to degree level to help reduce inmate reoffending, a prison reform campaigner said today.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said the eight weeks of training for officers was not enough and their job should instead be on a par with professions like teaching and nursing.

Only graduates in subjects such as criminology, prison law or sociology should be accepted for the role, it added.

Howard League director Frances Crook said higher-qualified staff would help prisoners with mental health or drug problems, and could help cut reoffending rates.

She told the BBC: "Prisons are violent and dangerous places, full of very vulnerable and damaged individuals.

"The prison officer currently has to help prisoners with everything from housing to finances and from detoxification to anger management, all within a horribly complex framework of legislation.

"Eight weeks is not enough time to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to fulfil this hugely challenging and complicated role."

The Prison Officers Association said Ms Crook's idea was "naive and narrow-minded" and that personal qualities, not qualifications, helped make a good prison officer.

POA chairman Colin Moses said: "There are some shortfalls in training, but what we do not need is to pursue this line of a degree.

"What we do need is more training for prison officers, who have... massive practical skills which are often overlooked by the Howard League."

Asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme if it was correct that prison officers only received eight weeks' initial training, he said: "It is accurate in what you get in your initial training but there is ongoing training in the job.

"What we want to see is more increased ongoing training, more specialised training, and we want that very quickly."

He called on ministers to end the "mad" policy of increasing the size of the private sector within prisons.

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