David Cameron yesterday outlined plans for wholesale prison reform, with the announcement made at the first speech focused solely on prisons in over two decades.
The cuts have been announced with the aim of lowering the chronically high level of reoffending amongst prisoners (46%), as well as saving money. The cost of reoffending to the public purse is currently reckoned to be £13 billion per year.
- Read Alex Cavendish on the PM’s speech here
The current levels of violence, drug-taking and self-harm in prisons are another driving force behind the reforms, which Cameron stated should ‘shame us all’. On an average week there can be 600 incidents of self-harm, at least one suicide and 350 assaults.
Six pilot ‘reform prisons’ are to be created, offering greater autonomy to governors to control their budgets and overall management. This is designed to ‘remove the bureaucratic micromanagement’ that ‘disempowers’ prison governors. The PM also stated the government would implement the recommendations made in Dame Sally Coates’s review of prison education (soon to be published), with the idea of changing the perception of prisoners to ‘potential assets that should be harnessed’.
Other plans include a league table ranking prison performance with respect to reoffending, employment and literacy, as well as scrapping the need to declare unspent convictions immediately in order to boost job prospects.
Frances Crook, CEO for the Howard League for Penal Reform welcomed the ‘positive rhetoric’ of the speech, but emphasised sentencing reform as the ‘lynchpin’.
‘The Prime Minister is right to say that we do need prisons, and right to say that we don’t need prisons as they are today. Prisons are currently violent and overcrowded. As such, they fail everyone: victims, the public, staff and prisoners themselves. 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.’