Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.Irrespective of the overall desirability and feasibility of the prison reforms, without support from the people who are operating prisons they are unlikely to be effective. We recommend that the Government seek productive engagement with prison staff and governors through regular meetings, enabling their concerns and ideas to feed into the implementation of the reforms. (Paragraph 7)

Prison Governance

2.Our evidence does not suggest that the current crisis in prisons was caused by the delineation of responsibilities between the National Offender Management Service and the Ministry of Justice, but there may be a rational case for separating commissioning decisions, which have implications for both private and public sector providers, from the management of the public sector prison service. However, it is not clear how the relationship between HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), responsible for operational management, and the Ministry, responsible for policy and commissioning, will work in practice. This lack of clarity could make it harder to see what is going wrong in prisons and why, and confusion about who is responsible for what could make prisons less safe and effective. It is particularly important that prison governors should receive consistent direction and messages from HMPSS and the Ministry. We recommend that the Government clarify how the relationships between governors, HMPPS and the Ministry will work in practice. (Paragraph 11)

3.In principle, transparency about what constitutes good performance is absolutely right. Governors should know the standards against which they will be judged and the public should know what constitutes a successful prison. Such an approach requires both a robust set of performance measures, on which we comment further in the next chapter, and clarity about the consequences of poor performance. Yet it is not clear how the proposed interventions differ from current actions taken in cases of poor performance, and how they will operate in future, including if public prisons could be privatised if they perform poorly and vice versa; it also remains unclear what processes are in place to identify poor performance at an early stage. Performance agreements were supposed to be put in place in a third of prisons from April 2017, but the Prison Governors’ Association advised its members against signing them; we recommend that the Ministry should include in its response to this report information on how many agreements have been signed, and how it will proceed if agreements are not signed. We also recommend that the Ministry urgently provide clarity about the processes for managing poor performance, as well as about how accountability will be attributed in practice, particularly in cases where poor performance is caused by multiple factors which straddle the responsibilities of governors, the Ministry and HM Prison and Probation Service. (Paragraph 14)

4.We welcome moves to simplify prison policies, but it is clear that the centre must continue to set minimum standards of expectations that apply consistently across prisons. We recommend that the Ministry put in place the necessary monitoring arrangements to ensure that local discretion does not result in unacceptable variation in the treatment of prisoners or serious security failures, and clarifies the role of HM Prison and Probation Service in performance monitoring. (Paragraph 17)

5.There remains considerable uncertainty around how the Government’s plans will apply to the privately managed prison estate. It is not clear to us how, or whether, the planned performance agreements will supplement existing contracts or whether they will simply reflect that which providers are already contractually obliged to deliver. Nor is it clear how the proposed intervention powers for the Secretary of State will apply to private sector prisons and how they will work alongside existing contractual remedies. We recommend that the Ministry clarify how the reforms will apply to private prisons in these respects. (Paragraph 20)

6.The information currently available to us is not sufficient for us to reach any conclusions on the appropriateness of the management structures the Ministry or HM Prison and Probation Service intends to operate above individual prisons. We therefore ask that the Government set out its plans in more detail in response to this report. (Paragraph 24)

7.We welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring governors get the support and development they need, but we are concerned that support structures will not be in place before the reforms begin to take effect in April. We have not seen detail of the geographical and functional clusters in which prisons will be arranged and of the processes by which governors can support each other within these groups. We recommend that the Ministry clarify what support will be available to governors from April in carrying out their new functions and how they will address potential skills gaps in the short term. (Paragraph 26)

8.We agree with the Government and witnesses including the Prison Reform Trust that prisons must not be managed in isolation from society outside the prison gates. It is not clear to us, however, how the Government intends to ensure the contributions made by various agencies are, in fact, coordinated at a local level, nor how accountability will be apportioned for post-release outcomes between prison governors and probation services. We recommend that the Ministry set out its plans on local partnerships and the relationship between prisons and probation services in more detail. (Paragraph 29)

9.We welcome the Government’s commitment to an evidence-based approach to the implementation of the reform programme.We recommend that the Ministry should ensure that local freedoms granted to governors are underpinned by clear minimum standards for the application of evidence and judgements about impact, drawn up to avoid restricting the delivery of particular activities in prisons, but to provide support to governors in exercising their new freedoms and ensuring that public money is spent on activities that take account of the evidence on what is effective in reducing the risk of re-offending. (Paragraph 31)

10.Prison management and the provision of safe and decent prison conditions that will promote rehabilitation are complex activities that must be well-grounded in evidence. We are generally supportive of the principle of greater governor empowerment, but we have not seen any evidence that it will lead to better outcomes. The Government’s formal evaluation of the reform prisons is welcome in this respect, although it is customary to evaluate pilots before applying what is tested more widely. We recommend that the Government:

11.We welcome the proposals to professionalise the prison officer role, but are concerned by the apparent lack of certainty about the Government’s plans for prison officer resourcing and, in particular, the nature and purpose of the keyworker model. In their response to this report, we recommend that the Ministry:


12.We shall review whether the new official statistics which the Ministry of Justice plans to publish provide the necessary level of public transparency about prison operations and whether there is any material impact on our capacity effectively to scrutinise the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service. (Paragraph 36)

13.We welcome the inclusion of performance measures on staff and prisoner perceptions of safety. We recommend the Ministry examines whether other aspects of the Measuring the Quality of Prison Life survey for prisoners and the equivalent survey for staff could be used as lead indicators of performance. (Paragraph 38)

14.We welcome the Ministry’s assurances that their performance measures have been developed with rigour and note that they will be subject to ongoing testing, but we have not received sufficient evidence to verify the manner in which they have been tested. In the light of the challenges arising from the performance metrics for Transforming Rehabilitation, which had limited testing prior to implementation, we recommend that the Ministry explains fully the rigour it has applied to developing the measures in its response to this report, and publishes the results of its testing of them after the first year of use, including an assessment of any limitations of the measures. (Paragraph 40)

15.We recommend the Ministry publish information on the controls it intends to put in place to ensure objectivity and consistency in recording performance to avoid bias and manipulation. (Paragraph 41)

16.It is unclear how governors can be judged accountable for various aspects of rehabilitation and preparation for release when prisoners move between prisons and other actors are involved in delivering the relevant interventions, some of which, such as suitable accommodation post release, are outside governors’ direct or indirect control. We recommend that the Ministry clarify these matters in its response to this report. (Paragraph 42)

17.It is unclear whether the Ministry is testing alternative performance measures as proposed by some of our witnesses, or whether it intends to bring performance cost and performance measures together. We consider that there is merit in testing measures related to staffing and prisoners’ personal development. We call on the Government to explain in its response whether it is testing other measures and what they are, and if it is not, why these other measures have been discounted. (Paragraph 43)

18.The Ministry must provide clarity both to governors and to the public about how it intends to weight indicators of performance, including which it sees as of primary importance. (Paragraph 45)

19.We conclude that league tables as they were conceived in the White Paper are not a useful means to compare prison performance or drive improvement. A single overarching assessment of prison performance will mask many aspects of performance. If, as the Minister’s evidence suggests, the Government has reconsidered this approach and intends now to publish performance data instead, we would support this new approach. In our view it is more important that the Ministry seeks to understand more fully the factors underpinning poor and high performance and uses the learning to devise lessons to improve practice which are disseminated transparently across the estate. We recommend that the Ministry explain clearly the mechanisms through which they intend to achieve this in their response to this report. (Paragraph 47)

20.The differences in practices that are likely to arise from freeing governors from service-wide instructions have the potential to create perceived injustices and to increase complaints to both Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). The Ministry’s well-placed efforts to improve perceptions of the independence of these organisations might also drive a rise in complaints. We recommend that the Ministry report back to us on this at six monthly intervals over the two years of implementation. If there is found to be greater demand on IMBs and/or the PPO, the Ministry should make provision for an increase in resources for these bodies. (Paragraph 48)


21.We welcome the opportunity the Government’s reforms bring for governors to commission services that support a rehabilitative culture in their prisons, and to do so in innovative ways, but we are concerned about the lack of clarity that surrounds these reforms, which will start to take effect very soon. We are concerned that governors may not have had time to familiarise themselves with the hastily drawn up accountability framework before it begins to apply to them. We recommend that the Government clarifies how prison performance agreements are designed to incentivise innovation and who will be held accountable in cases of poor performance resulting from innovative approaches; and that the Government urgently provide service providers with the information they need to offer services tailored to individual prison populations. (Paragraph 56)

22.We welcome the principle of greater governor involvement in commissioning goods and services in prisons. It is important that the new commissioning freedoms for governors should be accompanied by central oversight and minimum quality standards to ensure service provision meets expectations and is coordinated across the prison estate to deliver rehabilitative outcomes for prisoners. We recognise that governor empowerment is likely to lead to differences in service provision across the prison estate and recommend that the Ministry put in place measures to ensure that education, family services and offending behaviour programmes are aligned across the estate to enable prisoners to progress through their sentence, and to ensure these programmes meet minimum quality standards. We also recommend that the Ministry monitor the effect of giving governors commissioning responsibilities on prisoners’ sentence progression and report back to us every six months during the implementation of the reforms. We further recognise that the appropriate level to commission goods and services varies on a case by case basis, and recommend the Government does not take a dogmatic approach to devolving commissioning decisions. (Paragraph 61)

3 April 2017