Biggest shake-up of prison service since Victorian times

Queen Elizabeth II sits beside her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh,  with Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales, as she delivers her speech during the State Opening of Parliament. Photo: Justin Tallis/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II sits beside her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, with Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales, as she delivers her speech during the State Opening of Parliament. Photo: Justin Tallis/PA Wire

The recent Queens Speech had the Prison Bill as the centrepiece of the new legislative programme.

It is being hailed as the biggest prison shake up since Victorian times, yet I can’t help but think those behind it must be massive fans of Shawshank Redemption, one of my favourite films of all time.

John Halewood Dodd

John Halewood Dodd

The government blurb pronounces it is a move to rehabilitate offenders, to extend life chances and provide opportunities for all. Offering education to prisoners is to be of paramount importance. This has been criticised by those who have latched on to the suggestion prisoners will be given iPads. It also appears to be contrary to the view of the last Justice Minister, Chris Grayling, who banned books for prisoners seeing them as a privilege. Very Shawshankesque!

Personally, I feel prisoners should be given the opportunity to further their education. However, I am cynical of the motivation behind the Government’s rhetoric as one of the main features is prison governors will be given more powers.

The governors of these new reform prisons will have their powers extended to such an extent they will be able to opt out of nationally agreed contracts, determine whether visits are allowed, and, perhaps most importantly, decide how the budget of their prison is spent.

There are to be league tables setting out where these prisons are placed in relation to the levels of violence and self harm within their establishments. Furthermore, they will be monitored on reoffending rates and the levels of employment gained on release. Worryingly, this places an obvious incentive on the prisons to manipulate the data as their budgets are to be linked to their results.

This is especially so as these new prisons are to be allowed to generate and retain their income.

The Prime Minister in arguing this was the way forward said prisons would no longer be warehouses for criminals but they would now be places where lives are changed. My worry is that with financial incentives it’s not the prisoners lives that will be changed, but rather those of the governors, and those to whom they give contracts.