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08.02.16

PM calls for major prison reform – prison officers respond

The prime minister says the prison system needs reforming and has outlined changes that will be brought forward in the coming year, aimed at seeing prisoners as “assets to be harnessed” and not just liabilities to be managed.

In a speech today, David Cameron will promise that six new ‘reform prisons’ will be created this year, with full autonomy over how they operate and spend their budget, and a new Prisons Bill will be brought forward in the next session of Parliament to spread these principles across the prison system.

He will also promise full reforms to the prison education system, with full control being given to ‘reform prison’ governors, and protection to the £130m annual budget.

Prison Officers' Association national chair P J McParlin told PSE: "We welcome the recognition by the prime minister that prisons are failing. I would remind the prime minister that it’s governments who have presided over the failure, whether it’s Labour or the Conservatives. Prisons are failing to provide safe, secure and decent conditions in which we can rehabilitate prisoners."

McParlin said that despite the promise to introduce six new reform prisons, the government has closed 18 prisons since 2010, and that issues such as overcrowding and drug addiction in prisons need to be addressed in order to allow the education reforms to succeed. He added: "We also welcome the prime minister’s recognition of the difficult and dangerous job that prison officers do and we remind the prime minister that a pension age of 68 is unsustainable."

The prime minister is expected to say: “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.”

79 Prison-bw

Just under half (46%) of all prisoners will reoffend within a year of release, rising to 60% of short-sentenced prisoners, costing up to £13bn every year. In a typical week there are almost 600 incidents of self-harm in prisons, at least one suicide and 350 assaults, including 90 on staff.

Cameron will also announce a drive to improve comparisons of prison performance on factors such as reoffending levels, employment outcomes after release, places of residence following release and progress made on basic literacy and key skills.

The government will soon publish Dame Sally Coates’ review of prison education, which recommends the end of regional contracts and greater control of education for prison governors.

Former chief secretary to the Treasury and ex-Lib Dem MP David Laws will chair a new social enterprise, working with Dame Sally and organisations such as Teach First to recruit graduates into working for prisons.

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