01/12/2016 14:56 GMT | Updated 01/12/2016 21:47 GMT

Prison Officers Offered Improved Pay And Pensions By Government

Frontline prison officers are to be offered improved pay and pensions after the Government struck a deal with union bosses following weeks of controversy over the jail safety crisis.

The proposed package – including a reduction in the retirement age of up to three years – has been endorsed by leaders of the Prison Officers Association and will now be put to a membership ballot.

Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "This agreement is a good offer which rightly recognises the hard work and dedication of officers across the country doing a tough job."

The proposals were on offer before thousands of POA members stopped work in protest last month amid surging violence and claims that the system was "in meltdown" - and have not been improved since the action. 

Under the agreement prison officers will be allowed to retire at 65 - three years ahead of the current state pension age, at no cost to them and with full pension benefits.

Uniformed staff will be given consolidated pay rises of between 0.5% and 1% for each of the next three years, on top of usual performance-related pay increases.

They also stand to receive a "recognition and retention" package totalling £1,000.

Mounting concerns over the state of jails in England and Wales erupted into the open when up to 10,000 officers held protests outside jails - forcing ministers to go to the High Court to secure an injunction to order them back to work.

The POA directed members to take action after talks with the Government over health and safety concerns broke down.

A flurry of warnings were issued about safety behind bars after figures showed rising levels of assaults and self-harm.

Controversy intensified with a string of high-profile incidents including the escape of two inmates, who were later recaptured.

Dwindling staffing levels in recent years have fallen under the spotlight - while bosses have faced a struggle to recruit and retain personnel in some parts of the country.

For officers appointed in 2014/15 their leaving rate in the first year after joining was 13.5%, figures show.

Ms Truss has unveiled a blueprint for prison reform including a £100 million boost to numbers of frontline staff that will see an extra 2,500 officers join the service.

Other measures aim to stop drones dropping drugs into jails and block the illegal use of mobile phones behind bars.

The Justice Secretary said: "I am pleased the POA's leadership has endorsed the package, part of a wider drive to improve prospects for staff and help ensure they are recognised and properly rewarded for the challenging work they do.

"If accepted by members this is a deal which will benefit thousands of prison officers who I hugely respect and for whom I want to see safe working conditions.

"Since entering office, I have been clear that my number one priority is making prisons places of safety and reform.

"I look forward to working closely with frontline staff to drive forward this ambitious reform programme."