Prime Minister outlines plan for reform of prisons

8 Feb 2016 12:08 AM

The PM announces reform to the prison system including six new 'reform prisons' to be created this year and changes to the prison education system. 

The Prime Minister is expected to slam the ‘scandalous failure’ of the prisons sector later today as he outlines his vision for a modern, more effective, truly twenty-first century prison system.

Giving the first speech purely focused on prisons by a British PM in more than 2 decades, he will outline plans to give prison governors complete control over the way they run their prisons, which will empower staff, drive up standards and cut reoffending.

He will promise 6 of these new ‘reform prisons’ by the end of the year and through a new Prisons Bill in the next session, has vowed to unleash these principles across the prisons system.

The Prime Minister is expected to say:

It can be easy for us all – when prisons are closed off by high walls and barbed wire – to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. I want this government to be different.

When I say we will tackle our deepest social problems and extend life chances, I want there to be no no-go areas.

And that includes the 121 prisons in our country, where our social problems are most acute and people’s life chances are most absent.

So I want to explain why I believe prison reform should be a great progressive cause in British politics and to set out my vision for a modern, more effective, truly twenty-first century prison system.

My starting point is this: we need prisons. Some people – including, of course, rapists, murderers, child abusers, gang leaders – belong in them. For me, punishment – that deprivation of liberty – is not a dirty word.

I never want us to forget that it is the victims of crime who should always be our principal priority. And I am not unrealistic or starry-eyed about what prisons can achieve.

Not everyone shows remorse and not everyone seeks redemption.

But I also strongly believe that we must offer chances to change; that for those trying hard to turn themselves around, we should offer hope; that in a compassionate country, we should help those who’ve made mistakes to find their way back onto the right path.

In short: we need a prison system that doesn’t see prisoners as simply liabilities to be managed, but instead as potential assets to be harnessed.

But the failure of our system today is scandalous.

46% of all prisoners will re-offend within a year of release. 60% of short-sentenced prisoners will reoffend within the same period. And current levels of prison violence, drug-taking and self-harm should shame us all.

In a typical week, there will be almost 600 incidents of self-harm; at least one suicide; and 350 assaults, including 90 on staff.

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.

The PM will also announce a drive to make our prisons more transparent in terms of how they operate, by developing proper data and meaningful metrics so we can easily compare prison performance.

This could include measuring individual institutions’ reoffending levels, employment outcomes after release, place of residence following release and progress made on basic literacy and key skills.

Alongside this, the PM will also confirm that the government will soon be publishing Dame Sally Coates’ review of prison education, where she will recommend the end to regional contracts and instead advises giving much greater control of education to prison governors.

The recommendation, which has been accepted in full by the government, will be backed further by the government promising to protect prison education budgets in cash terms, with £130 million per year.

And David Laws has agreed to chair a new social enterprise and work with Dame Sally Coates and organisations such as Teach First to develop a new scheme that will recruit high quality graduates who will transform prisons into places of rehabilitation and learning.

David Laws said:

I am a firm believer in the power of education and have seen first-hand the difference great teachers can make.

I look forward to working with Dame Sally Coates to establish a graduate scheme that will help to support our vision of placing high quality education at the heart of the prison regime.

Brett Wigdortz OBE, Founder & CEO of Teach First said:

Over the last 13 years Teach First has, with our school and university partners, developed expertise in attracting and mobilising talented leaders to support and inspire the least advantaged in society.

Like so many, we know that too often there is a link between low achievement at school and the prison population. I am therefore delighted to be able to share our knowledge of attracting talented individuals to key professions that transform the lives of those facing the greatest barriers.

Notes to editors