Cameron plans prison overhaul to break reoffending cycle

8 Feb 16

David Cameron is set to announce plans to counter the “scandalous failure” of Britain’s prisons, including a pilot scheme that will delegate more control to prison governors.

In a speech later today, the prime minister will say the failing prison system needs “wholesale reform” and outline plans to create six new “reform prisons” whose governors will have complete autonomy over how they operate and spend their budget.

He will state that current levels of reoffending, prison violence, drug taking and self harm should “shame us all”, with a typical week seeing almost 600 incidents of self-harm, at least one suicide and 350 assaults, including 90 on staff.

As many as 46% of all prisoners will re-offend within a year of release, which rises to 60% of prisoners who served a shorter sentence, the prime minister will highlight.

“This failure really matters. It matters to the public purse: this cycle of reoffending costs up to £13bn a year,” Cameron will add.

He will also confirm the government’s acceptance of recommendations suggested by Dame Sally Coates’ review of prison education, due to be published soon.

These include putting an end to regional contracts and giving greater control of prison education to governors. The prime minister will also promise to protect the prison education budget in cash terms, with £130m per year.

But Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said prison reform “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 cell doors,” she said.

“We need action now to tackle sentence inflation and the profligate use of prison. Then the prime minister’s vision can become a reality,” she said.

In January, the Institute for Public Policy Research said that city mayors should be given control of some areas of criminal justice spending to allow local authorities to develop new approaches to cut reoffending.

Today’s speech by the prime minister will build on chancellor George Osborne’s announcement as part of November’s Spending Review that he will sell off outdated city centre prisons and build new ones elsewhere to make room for housing.

He committed to the construction of nine new prisons, five of which will open before the end of this parliament.

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