Oral statement to Parliament

Prison reform

Oral statement on prison reform by the The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Elizabeth Truss.

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s proposals for prison reform.

The prison system in England and Wales is under serious and sustained pressure. Rates of violence and self-harm have increased significantly over the last five years. In the 12 months to June 2016 there have been nearly 6000 assaults on staff and 105 self-inflicted deaths. Prison staff are responding to constantly evolving security threats, such as psychoactive drugs, mobile devices, and drones. All of which means too many prisoners are missing out on the chance to reform, and going on to re-offend when they leave the prison gates.

We owe it to our hard-working prison staff to reverse these trends. We owe it to prisoners and their families. And we owe it to our communities and victims of crime. The cost of reoffending by former prisoners to society is estimated to be 15 billion pounds a year: 1.7 million pounds every single hour of every single day, blighting thousands of lives.

In May, Her Majesty set out in the Gracious Speech that her Government would legislate to reform prisons: including increasing freedoms for governors, improving education opportunities for offenders and closing old and inefficient buildings. And today I am publishing the government’s plans for doing so. They represent a major overhaul of the system – the biggest for a generation.

Mr Speaker, prisons punish by depriving people of their liberty. They must also reduce reoffending. My starting point is to refocus the system so everyone is clear that safety and rehabilitation is the purpose of the prison system, setting this out for the first time ever in statute. Governors and staff cannot lead and manage change in an environment where they fear violence. Likewise, offenders cannot be expected to turn their life around while they are dependent on drugs or in fear of being assaulted.

I will invest in an additional 2,500 more prison officers across the prison estate by the end of 2018. As an immediate step, I am investing £14m to bring in 400 additional prison officers into our ten most challenging prisons by March 2017.

Increasing the number of frontline staff will give prison officers more time to turn around the lives of offenders. Starting with the ten most challenging prisons, each and every offender will have a dedicated prison officer offering regular, one-to-one support. This one-to-one support model will be rolled out to every prison in England and Wales.

We will combine this new support for prisoners with a zero-tolerance approach to criminality in prison. We will take a zero-tolerance approach to criminality in prison. If anyone attacks our prison staff, I will send the clearest possible message that we will treat that as the serious crime it is. We are rolling out body-worn cameras across the prisons estate to give staff extra confidence. And we will work closely with other organisations including the National Crime Agency and the police to improve our intelligence gathering function – to tackle organised crime within the prison estate.

We will also take robust action to address emerging threats to prison security. We have rolled out new tests for psychoactive substances across the estate, and have trained 300 dogs to detect these new substances. We will work with industry to rid our prisons of the mobile phones which are driving up crime within the prison walls, as well as the drones used to smuggle goods in.

Alongside investing in our staff, we will give governors the tools they need to drive forward improvements. We will push decision-making authority and budgets for the things that make a difference to offenders down to governors – whether that is education, family services or how they run their regime.

We’re already seeing what greater authority can achieve in our six reform prisons. Launched in the summer, these trailblazer governors are starting to reap the rewards of greater authority and empowerment in their prisons. Now we want the whole of the prison estate to benefit from greater devolution of powers to local level.

In return for greater authority, we will hold governors to account for improvement. For the first time we will publish national league tables every year, so the public can quickly see an illustration of how each prison is performing. This will include assessing the progress offenders have made to improve their maths and English skills as well as getting into work.

And the various inspection and scrutiny regimes – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, and the Independent Monitoring Boards – need to be strengthened. Their recommendations need to be taken seriously and responded to quickly.

When failures happen, people want to see action taken. We will strengthen the role of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, adding to their remit so that in addition to their broad focus on the treatment of prisoners, they take account of the extent to which prisons are achieving the statutory purpose. There will be a formal process for the inspectorate’s findings to act as a trigger for the Secretary of State to intervene in the worst cases.

And finally, reform simply cannot happen in decrepit jails. Some prisons are overcrowded and no longer fit for purpose.

That’s why I am also investing £1.3 billion on a modern, fit-for purpose estate.

In addition to HMP Berwyn in Wales - which will open from February 2017 – we will build new prisons for men and women and close those prisons that do not have a long term future in the estate. This year we will begin the process of submitting planning applications for new sites starting with Wellingborough and Glen Parva.

As this new accommodation is opened, we will start to close old accommodation. As part of this programme we will not reopen Dover and Haslar as prisons. Over the next 5 years there will be a programme of closures and I will make a more detailed announcement about this shortly.

Over the course of this Parliament and beyond we will see tangible improvements in the condition of our prisons and begin to see better results in what prisons are asked to achieve. Over the coming years, I believe we can create a better system with pronounced and sustained improvement in results for offenders: in their education, employment and health, so that those stubborn reoffending rates can come down and fewer people have to go through the terrifying ordeal of being a victim of crime. That will be the marker of whether these reforms have been successful.

This Government’s mission is to reform the way our public services work for the better, for everyone in society. As Justice Secretary, urgent reform of our prisons is my number one priority to bring crime down in our communities and to reduce harm for both prison staff and prisoners. That priority will, I am sure, be shared by honourable Members. I commend this statement to the House.

Published 3 November 2016