David Cameron’s ‘reform prisons’ are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’

David Cameron has announced six ‘reform prisons’ will be created this year as part of a government scheme to tackle violence and re-offending.

The prime minister said the creation of the prisons, expected to be in place by the end of the year, will see governors have more autonomy over how they operate and spend their budget.

Several leading penal charities have said the plans will not work as prisons struggle to cope with a lack of staff in overcrowded prisons in poor conditions.

Frances Crook, Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive, said yesterday: “Today brings a welcome speech from the prime minister, which opens up a space for radical and rational thinking.”

The prison education system will also be completely transformed, with ‘reform prison’ governors having full control.

Mrs Crook said: “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.”

She added urgent action is needed to tackle the problem before the prime minister’s vision can become a reality.

Last week SWL reported the upward trend of self-harm in prisons across England and Wales after it emerged three prisoners committed suicide in HMP Wandsworth in 2015.

Overall there was a 46% rise in suicides in the last three years in a report published by the Howard League for Penal Reform in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice.

A prison service spokesperson said: “We take our duty of care to prisoners extremely seriously.

“Staff provide support to prisoners at risk of self-harm and suicide every day, and work closely with health providers to ensure that prisoners receive appropriate healthcare.

“All deaths in custody are fully investigated by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and subject to a Coroner’s inquest.”

Meanwhile Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, Lord Falconer, claims while the prime minister’s comments are welcome he rejects the idea change will be immediate.

He said: “Labour has long called for governors of successful prisons to be greater autonomy and for prisons to become more rehabilitative.

“The Tories have had five years to improve our prisons and we have heard promises of ‘rehabilitation revolution’ many times before”.

Lord Falconer also said while ministers continue to ignore the appalling conditions in prisons with no additional funding it is unclear how yesterday’s announcements will make any difference.

In 2015 there were 14,247 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, 595 serious assaults on staff and 89 self-inflicted deaths and 32% of offenders with one previous custodial sentence re-offend.

The Ministry of Justice has said over the next five years £1.3billion will be invested to transform prison estate in an effort to tackle prison violence and drug-taking.

Picture courtesy of diamondgeezer, with thanks

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