The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Feb 19, 2008

What's on the inside?

On the bus this morning, I saw a strangely entertaining advertisement for Her Majesty's Prison Service. There has been much talk recently about the glamourisation of war in recruitment advertisements for the British armed forces. Clearly, a similar effect is beginning to be felt in the not-so-exciting areas of the public sector.

The advert showed a polished black man sitting at a desk, perusing some reading material rather studiously. There are bars behind him, and by his demeanour and formal attire, it's quite obvious that he is not a prisoner. I'm not certain why a black man had to be used in the advert. Perhaps it's for a bit of social engineering? Or possibly a bit of political correctness? At any rate, he looks like no prison officer I've ever seen. When we lived in Islington, I had occasion to pass by Pentonville Prison a couple of times, and I saw a few officers standing around, having a smoke and chatting. They looked like many other civil servants in Her Majesty's bureaucracy - dressed down, some with spiky hair, ear-rings. None of them was as well kitted out as the man in the commercial. (Statisticians may jump down my throat now: small sample errors and all that.)

Slightly more worrisome is the URL of the website associated with the recruitment drive. It's Indeed, what is on the inside?

The Prison Service looks like it is aiming to recruit a more genteel crowd to mind its gaols. This is probably a good idea. Do you really want thugs to watch over other thugs? But considering that almost any human being in a position of absolute authority over another (especially when the other is a criminal) ends up brutalised and suffering from a God-complex, it's unlikely that the genteel crowd will remain genteel for very long, particularly if the recruitment is for prison guards.

I daresay that the Prison Service, like any other bureaucracy under New Labour, is probably grossly overstaffed in administrative capacities. Pen-pushers can earn a pretty cushy livelihood in jails. There will be several layers of oversight, all of which are likely to be impersonal. The government will insist on regular calculation of metrics and performance statistics, most of which will be unnecessary, impenetrable and useless. The salary is rather good, though: £20,000 per annum basic, and if you add the London weighting, the annual gross is almost £30,000. With the current exchange rate of sterling versus the US dollar, this is more than many bodyshopped desi IT professionals were earning when they went to the Promised Land to kill the Y2K bug. So that ain't too bad, eh?


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