Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance Contents


Within our overarching inquiry into the Government’s prison reform programme we held a short ‘sub-inquiry’ into the plans for governor empowerment and prison performance, which are a central part of the overall programme. The Government intends to give prison governors greater autonomy and flexibility to shape the services provided in their prisons, emphasising the role of prisons in rehabilitation. Most of our witnesses supported these intentions, but many expressed concerns about the lack of clarity on the practical implications of the reforms. Some also questioned whether the reforms would address the current crisis in prisons. In this report, we have tried to clarify how the plans for governor empowerment and prison performance might operate and what risks will need to be mitigated.

From April onwards, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will be responsible for prisons commissioning and policy, while the new HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) will be responsible for the operational management of prisons. We heard that policy and operations are not easily separated in the prison context and that this separation could result in governors as well as the Secretary of State receiving conflicting advice from the MoJ and HMPPS. Governors will operate to, and be accountable through, three-year performance agreements they sign with the Secretary of State. These agreements will be based around four new performance standards, which are tied to the four purposes of prison included in the Prisons and Courts Bill: public protection; safety and order; reform; and preparing for life after prison. It is not clear to us what will happen in cases of poor performance, and how accountability will be attributed. The Ministry will publish official statistics on prison performance against these standards, possibly instead of the league tables it had initially announced. We consider that the Ministry should use these data to understand more fully the factors underpinning poor and high performance, to inform practice across the estate.

Governor empowerment

We are generally supportive of the principle of greater governor empowerment, but we have not seen any evidence that it will necessarily lead to better outcomes for prisoners, and we note that the six initial reform prisons will only be evaluated after the reforms take effect across the prison estate. We raise a number of potential issues associated with governor empowerment including:

There also remains considerable uncertainty around how the Government’s plans will apply to the privately managed prison estate, and how the new offender management model, with one keyworker overseeing the casework of six prisoners, will work in practice.


The shift to a common performance framework for private and public sector prisons, and towards more meaningful outcome measures for prisons that can incentivise desired behaviours in governors and staff, was broadly welcomed by witnesses, although some questioned the extent to which new measures differed significantly from existing ones. In the light of the challenges arising from the performance metrics for Transforming Rehabilitation, which had limited testing prior to implementation, we seek information on the manner in which prison performance measures have been tested and the results of these tests. Some of our witnesses suggested other measures should be used, and we consider that there is merit in testing measures related to staffing and prisoners’ personal development.


Giving governors greater involvement in commissioning services in their prisons could lead to better outcomes for prisoners and innovation, but only when commissioning is based on evidence and evaluated rigorously, and when procurement processes, as well as performance agreements, are designed to facilitate innovation. However, it could also lead to a lack of alignment of services across the estate, and an increase in the overall cost of service provision, as economies of scale in the provision of goods and services could be lost. We recognise the need for central oversight to ensure service provision is coordinated across the prison estate and meets minimum quality standards, and recommend the Government decides on the appropriate level at which to commission services and goods on a case by case basis.

3 April 2017