Put prisons and probation in local hands, says RSA

24 Oct 16

Prison and probation services are failing to protect the public from reoffending and should be devolved in England and Wales, the RSA think-tank has said.

Its report A Matter of Conviction: A Blueprint for Community-Based Prisons said up to £10.7bn a year might be wasted because of the service’s inability to reduce reoffending.

A government white paper is due on prison reform. The RSA said this should include a new legal rehabilitation duty on prisons and probation services to track individual and institutional progress towards rehabilitation, backed by a plan to, by 2020, retrain prison officers in rehabilitation skills.

Rehabilitation should be ‘designed-in’ to new prison construction according to evidence of what successfully supports rehabilitation, including size, locality, available networks and employment.

Under the RSA’s proposals for devolution, the National Offender Management Service would be reduced to dealing with resilience issues and the high-security prison estate.

Other prisons would be run by local prison boards – comprised of health, housing and education services, local authorities, employers and service users – and the remit of police and crime commissioners would be expanded to include prison and probation services.

Local boards would have powers to develop special purpose vehicles for innovation, integration and to seek additional funding from external sources, while health and wellbeing boards would become required to include prisoners explicitly in their priorities.

Prison governors would control budgets, staffing and services and work with their board on developing a rehabilitation strategy.

Their performance would be measured by rehabilitation and progression of prisoners, as would that of the probation services.

The RSA also called for urgent investment in staff numbers to restore these to 2010 levels.

Report author Rachel O’Brien, said: “The potential impact that prisons could have on reducing reoffending and community safety has been undermined by a lack of consistent political leadership and clear purpose. This has led to reactive policy, episodic change and an over-centralised system, which has disempowered the workforce and undermined public confidence.”

O’Brien, who is also director of the RSA’s Future Prison project, added: “These structural problems are a barrier to rehabilitation, which requires the engagement of local people, employers and services.”

She said the government’s commitment to prison reform in the white paper should be underpinned by investment in frontline prison staff and structural changes, steps that would lead to “a self-improving system that brings communities closer to the justice system”.

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