The UK is currently facing a worrying crisis, with staff shortages in prisons causing real problems.
This shortage causes issues for both the existing prison guards who are forced to work longer hours causing health hazards, but it is also a concern for the prisoners themselves.
The lack of staff means that prison programs, time out of cells, and visiting hours have been slashed due to health and safety concerns. In some prisons, it is even common to find prisoners locked up for 22.5 hours a day, and staff shortages have played a major part in the almost total collapse of work, education, and training in prisons.
The prison situation in the UK
UK prisons are facing a mass exodus of prison staff all over the country. Statistics released by the Prison Reform Trust revealed that more than one in seven (15%) prison officers left the service in 2022. This high level of turnover in recent years has led to a decline in staff experience, with almost three in 10 (29%) officers having been in their post for less than three years—up from around one in eight (13%) in 2010.
The government has already pledged GBP17 million ($21 million) to try and stop this haemorrhage, however, many prison guards who left have said that staff feel underprepared for the working conditions rather than it being simply a problem with pay. This then leads to the question of how the government should best spend this GBP17 million to increase staff retention.
The uses of augmented reality
One method being introduced recently is the use of augmented reality (AR) in the training of newly recruited guards. These guards are being forced into prisons with insufficient training and preparation due to staff shortages. This means that they are underprepared for what they will see, hear, smell, and experience once they enter the actual prisons.
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They will not be ready for the assaults from the prisoners that have become more common. These shocks push new staff to leave soon after they start, further reducing the retention rates of staff. Their colleagues remaining inside the prisons will be facing the same issues, with reports that the most experienced guards are leaving too—and that about 70,000 years of experience have been lost in the last decade.
Augmented reality technology would allow for a more immersive training experience for staff, where they would be able to feel as though they were experiencing a real-life shift inside a prison. There would be layouts of the prison mapped into the systems, which would allow an understanding of the processes that would soon become their day-to-day working lives.
To make it more realistic, the prisons that have undergone this AR training have also included other problematic scenarios to make it more realistic. Examples of this include replicating similar sounds to what staff would likely hear while working, or fabricating smells to imitate what could be expected inside prisons.
The potential benefits
All this work has been put in place so that when new recruits have their first real shifts, the work will not be as much of a shock to them, and they will feel more at ease during their duties. They should be better trained, which will provide two main benefits.
Firstly they will find the job easier and not feel the desire to leave due to the intensity inside the prison, and secondly, the prisoners will have more qualified guards, thus increasing their standard of care and allowing a better quality of life inside the prisons. Both of these will hopefully reduce the staff shortage.