So, we now know the contents of Liz Truss's much-vaunted White Paper on dealing with the prison crisis and the general view of expert opinion is that it's not up to much - a bit like the minister in fact. No mention of sentencing reforms or the probation service. We'll be hearing a lot more about this over the coming days, but here's a starter with Ken Clarke writing in the Guardian and he states the obvious:-
Ken Clarke: prison changes won't work until sentencing is reformed
The justice secretary, Elizabeth Truss, has been warned by her Conservative predecessor Ken Clarke that her major prison reform programme will be “impossible to achieve” unless she addresses the “prison works” sentencing policies of the past 20 years that have doubled the jail population to a record 85,000 in England and Wales.
Clarke welcomed the justice secretary’s new prison plan but told MPs she needed to “take the courageous decision to start addressing some of the sentencing policies of the 1990s/2000s, which accidentally doubled the prison population in those overcrowded slums and actually make sure our prisons are for serious criminals who need punishment”.
His warning came after the Prison Governors Association welcomed Truss’s decision to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers to “help halt the staggering rise in prison violence” but said her package will not have an immediate impact “as the real challenge now is actually getting staff through the gates”. The justice secretary acknowledged that there are serious recruitment problems in London and the south-east.
In the Commons, Truss confirmed that a prison safety and reform bill would be introduced into parliament in the new year to increase freedoms for governors, improve education opportunities for offenders and close old and inefficient jails as part of the biggest overhaul of the prison system for a generation.
She rejected, however, Clarke’s warning of the need to tackle the inflation in sentencing that was introduced under Michael Howard’s punitive “prison works” policy and which has seen the jail population in England and Wales jump from 42,000 in 1990 to more than 85,000 this week. Truss said she was not in favour of such “arbitrary reductions” in the prison population.
The detailed white paper published on Thursday, Prison Safety and Reform, confirms the plans for a new anti-drugs strategy, to devolve budgets to governors and to introduce a system of league tables and a new trigger for the justice secretary to intervene in failing prisons.
It discloses that the prison authorities intend to tackle deliveries of drugs and other contraband by drone with trials to detect and block them. They are also talking to the drone industry about the potential to programme the GPS coordinates of prison no-fly zones into the majority of drones on the market so they are blocked from overflying jails.
The white paper confirms the plans to open the next “supersized” 1,000 plus-inmate jail at Wellingborough in Northamptonshire and says a planning application will also be submitted to build a new prison at Glen Parva in Leicestershire.
It also discloses plans to open five new “community prisons” for women as part of a £1.3bn programme to provide 10,000 modern prison places by 2020.
The white paper also confirms the commitment to a “major programme of closures” of the “oldest and most inadequate” prisons over the next five years including a plan to reconfigure the estate, which has a surplus of 10,500 local prison places and a shortage of 14,400 resettlement and training places.
Truss says that former prisons at Dover and Haslar, Portsmouth, which have recently been immigration removal centres, will not be reopened as prisons. The white paper doesn’t name Pentonville, the Victorian jail dubbed the “grimmest of the grim” and which Michael Gove identified as a candidate for closure. But it does mention another Victorian London jail, Wandsworth, which is supposed to be a remand prison and yet only a third of its 1,600 population is awaiting trial or sentence.
The white paper also confirms that the prison service intends to press ahead with anti-extremism plans to set up a network of separate specialist units to house “the most subversive individuals” in the prison system despite a recent French decision to abandon a similar system.
Truss said that the recruitment of an extra 2,500 staff, including 400 she announced at the Tory party conference, would enable a new system of dedicated officers with each responsible for six inmates. She acknowledged that there were particular recruitment difficulties in London and the south-east but said she hoped new recruits would come from the armed forces among others. A prison officer apprenticeship scheme to be introduced next year will provide 1,000 new officers and a graduate scheme will provided 40 more a year.
The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, criticised the package as “too little, too late”, saying: “It’s 2,500 extra [officers], after over 6,000 fewer on the frontline. Will the secretary of state now admit that there is a Conservative cuts-created crisis in safety in our prisons?
“The root cause of this prison crisis is the political decision to cut our prison service back to the bone. Today’s announcement feels a lot like too little, too late,” he said.
Here's Rob Allen's take on the White Paper published on the Justice Gap Website:-
'A glimmer of hope but the challenges remain formidable’
The government’s prison white paper published this afternoon – Prison Safety and Reform – purports to be ‘a blueprint for the biggest overhaul of our prisons in a generation’. That’s a less grandiose claim than David Cameron’s February announcement of the biggest prison shake-up since Victorian times but ambitious none the less.
Do the proposals justify the hype?
Putting back 2,500 staff into a service which has shed 7,000 in six years is no more than a necessary corrective to a badly conceived programme of cuts for which Messrs Clarke and Grayling must take prime responsibility. It will enable a ‘new’ offender management model in which an officer will have specific responsibility for offering one to one support to no more than six prisoners. That’s neither new – it’s the old personal officer scheme – nor plausible, particularly in busy local prisons.
More significant are the plans for governors to have more control over budgets, staffing arrangements and what goes on in their prisons. As well as increasing their role in managing education and health care they will be able to introduce operational policies that fit their prison rather than having to comply to the letter with hundreds of detailed instructions. How far this will go is not clear. Could a Governor of a prison for long termers meet their responsibility to strengthen prisoners’ family ties by introducing conjugal visits for example?
Like much in the white paper, we must await the detail.
While prisons may welcome a promised bonfire of regulations, they’ll be less keen on the monitoring regime which will see league tables and stronger powers for inspectorates and the Ministry of Justice to step in when things are going wrong. There’s a lot in the paper about the clarifying responsibilities, creating transparency and measuring performance, complete with a plumbing diagram to show who does what in the system – reflecting perhaps Liz Truss’s experience as a management accountant. But the paper expresses surprise that there is no clarity over what that system as a whole should be delivering. A statutory purpose for the prison system will be created by the end of this Parliament, although there does not seem too much wrong with the longstanding duty to look after prisoners ‘with humanity and to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release’.
It is 25 years since a white paper made such a wide range of proposals for prisons. The reform agenda from Custody, Care and Justice ended abruptly in the mid 1990s after a disastrous series of escapes. One of the inquiries into those found a time of very mixed ideologies within the Prison Service intent on increasing physical security but wishing to provide the greater element of care and positive inmate relationships which Lord Woolf’s report into the Strangeways riot had encouraged. Prison Safety and Reform contains a similar mix of ideas. More searching, drug testing and cracking down on criminality and radicalisation on the one hand; more rewarding incentives and privileges, increased work and training opportunities and greater use of temporary release on the other.
It’s hard to combine the two approaches but the paper’s acknowledgment of the need to invest in leadership and staff training offers a glimmer of hope that it can be done. The new prisons being built provide a chance to develop a safe and positive culture from the start – particularly five small community prisons for women which we will hear more about next year.
But the challenges remain formidable. One of the 1990s inquiries noted a yawning gap between the prison service’s ideals and actual practice. It’s got worse and whether today’s proposals go far enough in bridging it remains to be seen. Kenneth Clarke suggested in Parliament today it is unlikely unless his successor but two takes ‘the courageous decision to start addressing some of the sentencing policies of the 1990s and the 2000s, which accidentally doubled the prison population in those overcrowded slums?’ Many would share that view.