Page last updated at 06:46 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 07:46 UK

Degree call for prison officers

Barbed wire
The Prison Officers' Association has dismissed the idea

All prison officers should be educated to degree level to help give them the necessary skills for the "challenging" job, a penal reform charity has said.

Prison officers in England and Wales currently have eight weeks' training and do not need formal qualifications.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said currently staff were "turnkeys... barely skilled or literate".

The Prison Officers Association said personal qualities not qualifications helped make a good prison officer.

It added the idea was "naive and narrow-minded".

The Howard League argued the job should be a profession, as with teachers and nurses.

We have massive practical skills which are overlooked by the Howard League
Prison Officers Association chairman Colin Moses

It said officers focus on prison security rather than helping prisoners with mental health or drug problems and believes that having higher-qualified staff could help cut reoffending rates.

'Perilous situations'

In future, said the Howard League, only graduates in subjects such as criminology, prison law or sociology should be accepted for the role.

Frances Crook, director of the organisation, said prison officers were faced with difficult and perilous situations on a daily basis with only eight weeks' training to draw on.

"Prisons are violent and dangerous places, full of very vulnerable and damaged individuals," she said.

"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."

'Dedicated workforce'

But Colin Moses, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, dismissed the idea, insisting that personal qualities were more important than paper qualifications.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there should be more training for existing prison officers.

He said: "We have a professional workforce now, there are some shortfalls in training, but what we do not need is to pursue this line of a degree.

"Currently we have massive practical skills which are often overlooked by the Howard League.

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

"We have a very dedicated workforce. That's what we have and that's what we need."

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