Justice secretary David Lidington has pledged to continue the government’s programme of prison reform, and said the Ministry of Justice is on track to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers by December 2018.
In an open letter released to mark his entry into the Ministry of Justice following Theresa May’s post-election reshuffle, Lidington said that the “the essential reforms under way to make prisons places of safety and reform” would continue.
The changes include the creation of the Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service to replace the National Offender Management Service, and plans to hand governors greater control over the education of inmates, as well as recruiting more prison officers.
Lidington’s predecessor Liz Truss also set out plans for a jail revamp with the MoJ seeking planning permission to build two new prisons and redevelop two more, with an announcement to be made later this year on some jail closures.
The new jails will be built in Yorkshire, adjacent to HMP Full Sutton, and in Port Talbot, South Wales, while existing prisons at Rochester in Kent and Hindley, near Wigan, will be extensively redeveloped.
After prison reform was not included in the Queen’s Speech, the Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said he was “very disappointed” that the Prison and Courts Reform Bill, which fell at the end of the last parliament, had not been reintroduced. It was a missed opportunity, Clarke said.
In his letter, Lidington insisted that work to make prisons true places of reform and rehabilitation was already under way and would continue.
“Prisons have been going through a particularly turbulent time and we need to create calm and ordered environments for that effective rehabilitation,” he said. “That means giving offenders the help they need to get off drugs, and the education, training and support to help them find employment when they leave prison.”
He said his priority would particularly be on the work underway to reform offenders and support ex-offenders.
“That has to start with the numbers of prison officers available to support offenders. More staff will provide the capacity for them to give more time to directly supervising offenders, through one-to-one support from a key worker. This engagement will be a key measure in reducing the currently unacceptable levels of assaults, self-harm and suicides,” he said.
“My predecessor has already secured a £100m a year investment for an extra 2,500 prison officers. The most recent figures show the number of prison officers in post has increased by 515 compared with the previous quarter and we are on track to deliver all 2,500 prison officers by December 2018. They will join thousands of dedicated and hard-working prison officers who undertake such important work, day in day out, to keep our prisons and the public safe.”
The government knows where the problems lie in our prisons, and knows what is needed to fix them, Lidington insisted. “We are continuing with, and building on, these reforms to ensure prisons are safe and secure and are able to transform the lives of those sent to custody by our courts,” he said.
However, Clarke said that the Prisons and Courts Reform Bill would have required the government to respond to the inspectorate’s findings. “We will continue to report the harsh reality of what we find in our prisons – all too many of which are dangerous for prisoners and staff alike and are failing in their duty to rehabilitate and reform prisoners. We will continue to press for strong leadership and a real commitment to reform,” he added.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the silence on prisons and probation in the Queen’s Speech had been “deafening”.
“Clearly, the Tories have no intention of fixing the mess they’ve created,” he said.
“Labour is committed to the reform needed to ensure the public are protected and offenders have a chance to turn their lives around.”