Today the Queen undertook her ceremonial duties at the State Opening of Parliament, setting out the government’s plan for policies and proposed legislation during the next session. This blog will explain why it’s a good idea to pay attention to it.
“For too long, we have left our prisons to fester. Not only does that reinforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up. It writes off thousands of people”. – Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Centre stage in the Queen’s speech was the announcement of the ‘prison reform and courts bill’. The government has set out the central aims of this bill as:
- 'Creation of Reform Prisons, driving a revolution in education, training, healthcare and security for prisoners, led by governors with the power to enter into contracts and establish their own Boards with external expertise.'
- 'New freedoms will be backed with a new [prison] regime of openness across the previously opaque world of the prison estate as prisons are required to produce statistics on areas such as prisoner education, reoffending and employment on release.'
- 'Measures to meet the Government’s manifesto commitment to modernise the Courts and Tribunals service, reducing delay and frustration for the public.'
Many in the sector have already welcomed a focus on reforming the prison estate, where there are rising levels of self-harm and suicide, concerns about staff safety, poor conditions in prisons identified by the Inspectorate, a need for improved healthcare, and a lack of focus on rehabilitation leading to high re-offending rates. The government is leading with a strategy of closing prisons that are not fit for purpose, building new prisons, and giving prison governors more autonomy and focussing on education and employability as ways to transform prisons.
The autonomous governor and the early adopters
"Prisons must do more to rehabilitate offenders. We will put governors in charge, giving them the autonomy they need to run prisons in the way they think best.” – Justice Secretary, Michael Gove.
In a letter from Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), the new ‘Executive Governors’ have been named, as well as the reform prisons they will be managing. These are as follows:
- HMP Coldingley (Cat C training prison): Nick Pascoe
- HMP Highdown (local Cat B prison): Nick Pascoe
- HMP Holme House (local Cat B prison): Ian Blakeman
- HMP Kirklevington (Cat D open prison )Grange: Ian Blakeman
- HMP Ranby (Cat C working prison): Neil Richards
- HMP Wandsworth (local male prison): Ian Bickers
Obviously these ‘early adopter’ prisons represent only a handful of the prison estate, but we can be sure that a lot of focus will be on them in the months and years to come. Doubtless there will be some questions about what this means for the women's prison estate, approaches to young adults, and the over-representation of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in our prison system. There's still much more that needs to be discussed but at least the sector can start to have the right conversations with the right people. Becky Wyse (Becky.Wyse@noms.gsi.gov.uk) is the Deputy Director co-ordinating the Reform Prisons project at NOMS HQ.
Some broad detail as to how the early adopter prisons might work was hinted at in a speech that Michael Gove gave to the Governing Governors’ Forum on May 12th. In this speech we heard some of the following:
- Pace of change: “Our prisons need a radical programme of reform which will take several years to implement before they can make the positive difference”
- A focus on education: “…governors should be given direct control of education budgets… It’s a big change. But radical change is needed. The current level of education provision in prisons is frankly inadequate.”
- Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL): “We know that the three most powerful factors helping to keep ex-offenders from re-offending are a good job, strong family ties and a stable place to live - ROTL makes all of them easier to achieve.”
- Changing Incentives and Earned Privilege (IEP) schemes: “…giving Governors far greater autonomy to shape incentives and privileges in a way they consider right for their institution”
- Reviewing the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) Sentence: “We must not compromise public safety but there are a significant number of IPP prisoners who are still in jail after having served their full tariff who need to be given hope that they can contribute positively to society in the future.”
Some of this chimes well with what the voluntary sector has been calling for, such as reform that isn’t put through too quickly, better education in our prisons, and better use of options like ROTL which have been in steep decline and are squandering the goodwill of our sector and other employers (see Clinks and Prison Reform Trust's briefing 'Inside Out' here).
Engage with Clinks on prison reform
In order to prepare for these prison reforms, Clinks has been working with the voluntary sector to develop a vision of what a new prison system could look like, as well as providing guidance to prisons on how to engage with the sector to improve the outcomes and services for people in prison. All of our work can be found here - Clinks' work on prisons. We encourage you to engage with us and we'll be offering plenty of opportunities in the months to come.
More to follow
There is a lot more to follow up from the announcements today, not least Dame Sally Coates’ review into prison education which was published today; our policy officer Nicola Drinkwater will be writing a blog about that and following up with a briefing for the voluntary sector.
Meanwhile, Clinks will be talking to the sector and supporting it to feed into two important things: the new Prison Reform and Courts Bill, and the imminent publication of the government’s ‘Life chances’ strategy which was today described as the "...Government’s new approach to tackling poverty and transforming the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families”.
Useful notes & links
- Letter from Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service: 'Prison Reform: Early Adopter Reform Prisons'
- These reforms will for the most part apply across England and Wales equally
- All topics of the Queen’s speech
- Background notes on Queen’s speech – with brief details of the bills proposed in it
- Ministry of Justice press release on prison reform