The Ministry of Justice has declared a project aimed at reducing violence and drug use across 10 of the nation’s most troubled jails a success – one year after then-prisons minister Rory Stewart pledged to resign if the programme did not deliver.
The department said the 10 Prisons project had seen a 16% reduction in the rate of assaults per 1,000 prisoners and a 50% reduction in positive drug tests across the board, through measures that included the introduction of new x-ray body scanners, metal detectors, contraband-catching toilets and a range of staffing improvements.
Some institutions saw dramatic improvements in their data – such as a 46% reduction in assaults at HMP Lindholme and HMP Isis and an 84% reduction recorded drug use at HMP Lindholme. However the MoJ conceded that not all institutions in the £10m project had managed to deliver.
The MoJ said seven of the prisons had delivered “considerable improvement”, while HMP Hull had seen its violence and drug-use levels remain “at the same level” and HMP Nottingham and HMP Wormwood Scrubs had seen increases in assaults.
It said Nottingham and west London’s Wormwood Scrubs, had “severe legacy issues” and that Nottingham’s results in particular had been affected by earlier underreporting of incidents.
Last August, then-prisons minster Rory Stewart pledged to resign if the 10 Prisons project did not deliver improvements on drug and violence levels in the target jails, saying: "I will quit if I haven't succeeded in 12 months in reducing the level of drugs and violence in those prisons. I want to make a measurable difference. That's what this investment is around."
But he left the role anyway when he was promoted to international development secretary in May this year, only to resign from the government when Boris Johnson became prime minister less than three months later.
Stewart welcomed the 10 Prisons project results when they were published by the MoJ and HM Prisons and Probation Service.
“Really pleased to see violence and drugs down in these key prisons,” he wrote on Twitter. “Huge thanks due to some v hardworking governors and prison officers, getting the basics right. I may not have to resign - oh wait...”
Really pleased to see violence and drugs down in these key prisons. Huge thanks due to some v hardworking governors and prison officers, getting the basics right. I may not have to resign - oh wait...https://t.co/gOqVbMHtrX
— Rory Stewart (@RoryStewartUK) August 23, 2019
Despite proclaiming the 10 Prisons project a success, MoJ said it would not continue. But new prisons minister Lucy Frazer said lessons from the project were already being implemented nationwide.
“I am encouraged by the results of this bold project to turn around some of our most difficult prisons, which have seen drops in both violence and drug use,” she said.
“We are already using what has worked to improve the rest of the estate, spending £100m on airport-style security to stop the scourge of mobile phones and drugs that fuel crime and disorder in jails.
“Alongside our recruitment of thousands of prison officers and building 10,000 additional prison places, we will continue our relentless drive to protect the public and make prisons places of safety and rehabilitation.”
The fast pace of change in government means that Stewart isn’t even the most recent former prisons minister. He was replaced by Robert Buckland in May, and Buckland was promoted to Lord Chancellor and justice secretary by Boris Johnson last month.
The 10 Prisons project was launched in what was a torrid year for the MoJ and HMPPS. It began with the failure of construction and outsourcing giant Carillion, which was responsible for providing a range of services across a chunk of England’s secure estate.
Repeated stories about levels of violence and inhumane conditions at the nations’ jails were a media mainstay, and MoJ perm sec announced a management restructuring following the ousting of HMPPS chief exec Michael Spurr.
The failure of the outsourcing of rehabilitation services to community rehabilitation companies has been another major hit for MoJ and HMPPS.