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Pay rise for prison officers announced in bid to tackle jail safety crisis

Thousands of prison officers will receive a pay rise in a new drive to boost staffing levels as the Government attempts to address the jail safety crisis.

Frontline personnel in London and the South East will earn up to £5,000 more under a £12 million package announced by Justice Secretary Liz Truss.

The cash injection comes as ministers attempt to improve recruitment and retention of staff amid surging levels of violence behind bars in England and Wales.

Union chiefs have repeatedly warned of low morale across the service, while figures released earlier this week showed a new fall in officer numbers last year.

The new package will see pay improved for guards at jails where recruitment has proved most difficult.

Staff at 31 establishments including Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs and Belmarsh will see their annual pay increase by between £3,000 and £5,000.

New recruits will also receive higher starting salaries of up to £29,500 - a rise of £5,000 on the current level.

The pay boosts will vary depending on how acute the recruitment difficulties are at the jail in question.

Ms Truss said: "Prison officers do a challenging and demanding job day in and day out.

"I want frontline staff to know that their work, experience and loyal service is valued.

"We also want to attract the best new talent into the service, ensuring we recruit and retain the leaders of the future.

"These hard-working, dedicated staff are key to delivering our ambitious reform agenda, and it is right that we offer them greater support as we move ever closer to transforming prisons into places of safety and reform."

The move comes weeks after Ms Truss announced a national recruitment drive to add 2,500 officers as part of her wide-ranging prison reform agenda.

Dwindling staffing levels have been highlighted as assaults, self-harm and suicides all soared to record levels, while a spate of major disturbances has erupted in jails.

On Thursday official figures revealed the number of personnel in key operational roles in public sector prisons in England and Wales fell by more than 300 to 17,888 last year.

The leaving rate - the percentage of staff with a permanent contract of employment who left for reasons other than voluntary early departure schemes and redundancy - has almost doubled since 2012/13.

As well as the announcement on pay, the Ministry of Justice said thousands of new learning and development opportunities will be made available to staff nationwide.

They will also be given specialist training in mental health and self-harm prevention.

The Prison Officers Association said: "The latest attempt at placing a plaster over a gaping wound has been announced.

"This decision will not solve the recruitment and retention issue, nor bring about operational stability in a prison system that is in meltdown.

"Whilst any additional pay for our members is welcome the latest policy decision direct from the Secretary of State sees another divisive decision on pay, which will enrage many who are left unaffected by this latest announcement."

Ms Truss acknowledged that there was a "very difficult situation in our prisons" that had been building for a number of years.

But she told BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I don't believe the people who say that things can't get better or that we need to suddenly release half of all the people in prisons to deal with it.

"We do have a plan, we are recruiting more officers and - for the first time ever, and this is what we are going to be doing in the Prisons and Courts Bill this week - we are going to be saying that the purpose of prisons is, of course, about punishing people but it also has to be about reforming them."

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