Ministry of Justice to hand more power to prison governors as David Cameron vows “wholesale” reform

Prison performance will be subject to greater transparency, David Cameron set to say, while governors will be handed greater control over the education of inmates

By Josh May

08 Feb 2016

Six new “reform” prisons are to be opened by the Ministry of Justice, David Cameron will announce today, as the prime minister calls for a major overhaul of the management of Britain’s jails.

In a speech later, the prime minister will say the current scale of violence, self-harm and drug use in prisons “should shame us all”, and will say inmates should be seen as “assets to be harnessed” rather than liabilities.

As part of “wholesale” changes of the system modelled on justice secretary Michael Gove’s reforms as education secretary, prison performance will be subject to greater transparency, while governors will be handed greater control over the education of inmates.

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Among the data that could be published for each prison are reoffending levels, employment outcomes after inmates are released, and progress on literacy.

The six “reform prisons” will pilot the plans to give more autonomy to governors this year.

Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws will lead a drive to encourage graduates to “transform prisons into places of rehabilitation and learning”.

Citing statistics showing that 46% of all prisoners and 60% of short-term prisoners will reoffend within one year of release, Cameron will say: “The failure of our system today is scandalous.”

He will add: “We need a prison system that doesn’t see prisoners as simply liabilities to be managed, but instead as potential assets to be harnessed…

“This failure really matters. It matters to the public purse: this cycle of reoffending costs up to £13 billion a year. It matters to you: because in the end, who are the victims of this re-offending? It’s the mother who gets burgled or the young boy who gets mugged. 

“It matters to the prison staff - some of the most deeply committed public servants in our country – who have to work in dangerous and intimidating conditions. And yes, it matters to the prisoners themselves, who mustn’t feel like society has totally given up on them.

“I’m clear: we need wholesale reform. And I am convinced that with the right agenda, we can be world leaders in change just like we have been in welfare, just like in education we can demonstrate that with the right reforms, we can make a lasting difference to people in our society.”

Frances Cook, the chief executive of campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the speech “opens up a space for radical and rational thinking”. 
“Prisons are currently violent and overcrowded. As such, they fail everyone: victims, the public, staff and prisoners themselves,” she said.

“Prison reform, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Improved education and increased autonomy for governors will not work if there are people crammed into filthy institutions with no staff to open the cell doors. 

“We need action now to tackle sentence inflation and the profligate use of prison. Then the prime minister’s vision can become a reality.”

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