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Prison officers are over-stressed and underpaid. We need a fair pay rise now

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I’ve been a prison officer for 16 years. It’s always going to be a tough profession, but when I started there was good pay, a good pension and job security. 

That’s not the case anymore, thanks to the government’s artificial pay restriction. After seven years of real-terms cuts to my salary, I now struggle to make ends meet.

When I started the job I could put some money aside, but not anymore. Just covering my mortgage and bills is a stretch – I don’t know what I’d do if my roof leaked or something else went wrong at home.

The people close to me, who I’m responsible for, have suffered as well.

To make things worse, I don’t find my work rewarding anymore. Prison officers are skilled workers, but thanks to so-called efficiency savings we’ve been reduced to locking and unlocking doors, and moving prisoners about.

Prisoner numbers are at record levels, but the number of officers is at a record low. So there’s far fewer of us doing a lot more work.

I’m seeing huge amounts of stress among my colleagues, and it’s making people ill. It also stops us doing the best jobs we can.

We’re no longer able to contribute to prisoner reform and rehabilitation because we have no time to communicate with prisoners, to learn what’s going on for them and help them to work through it.

Right now, nearly half of released prisoners reoffend within a year. We call it the revolving door syndrome, and it shows that our prisons are failing.

My advice to the government

My advice to the government is simple: resource our prisons properly and give prison officers the pay they deserve.

By that, I don’t mean a 1.5% pay increase because that’s not making a blind bit of difference – it’s still a real-terms cut.

We’re not asking for a fortune, just a fair deal for committed officers who face huge amounts of personal risk every time they go to work.

I’ve just seen a colleague have his head split open when a prisoner hit him with a table leg. That’s the kind of danger we face day-in-day-out. It’s always going to be a risky job – but our pay needs to reflect that.

Fair pay will improve job satisfaction, but it will also stop us losing people to other countries, or the private sector. I know that if I went abroad I’d earn more for the same work.

As prison officers, we work exceptionally hard doing one of the most difficult and demanding jobs in our society. We deserve better than the way we’ve been treated for the last seven years.

Like all public servants, we need a real pay rise now.

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