We have received the Government’s Response to our Sixth Report of Session 2015-16, Prison safety, HC 625. The response came in a letter dated 8 September 2016 to the Chair of the Committee from Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. We publish this letter as an Appendix to this Special Report.
I am writing to thank you for the work of the Justice Select Committee in producing its sixth report of session 2015-16, which you published on 16 May 2016.
My predecessor wrote to you on 19 May and 30 June and provided you with an early response on the steps being taken to deal with the issues you identified and to set out how the Government believes reform of the prison system will enable us to deal with the problems you highlighted in a coherent way.
I am now pleased to provide you with my Department’s full response to your Committee’s report. Prison safety is the Department’s top priority and is fundamental to making the radical reforms I want to make to our prison system. I am under no illusions about the scale of the challenge we face or how long reform takes.
We need decisive action to improve upon the current unacceptable levels of violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths. In the last year, assaults have risen by 31 per cent overall, and those on staff have risen by 40 per cent. Self-inflicted deaths have risen by 28 per cent and self-harm has increased by 27 per cent. To reform our prisons and rehabilitate offenders, helping them to be constructive citizens on release, we need prisons to be safe, decent and secure. They must be disciplined and structured places, where prisoners obey the rules and engage with interventions to help them deal with their offending behaviours.
The Government has an ambitious agenda to modernise the prison estate, improve education and empower governors, so that we can tackle issues, like drugs and violence, which are key to cutting reoffending and keeping staff and prisoners safe. By creating purposeful regimes that rehabilitate offenders, prisoners will be less likely to reoffend when they are released, meaning there will be fewer victims in the future. This is a key part of the Government’s commitment to deliver a justice system that works for every one of us.
We agree with the committee that it will take a variety of measures to achieve a safer prison estate, and these should be brought together into a single plan. The Government will publish a comprehensive prison safety and reform plan this autumn. In addition to the areas identified by the committee, this plan will also include the longer term reforms necessary to improve the prison system as a whole.
The autumn plan will include specific steps for improving safety in prisons. It will detail the urgent steps required to improve the security in our estate and the safety of staff and prisoners. We are already taking action to improve the situation, which is providing us with a good foundation for the development of a more sustainable approach. We are:
The Government’s plan will build substantially upon the work above, and will also examine the evidence and the options for a sustainable, deliverable, long term approach to prison safety and reform. We will consider what additional, urgent steps might be required to improve safety in the prison system alongside what system changes are needed over the longer term to achieve the best possible outcomes from our prison system overall.
Innovation and change will be required to grip these challenges in this system. These are more likely to succeed when led from the front line and our aim is to empower prison governors to provide the outstanding leadership needed to better manage the risks to safety and security in prisons, to secure value for money and get more prisoners the help they need to become law-abiding citizens.
We will create a clear set of measures to hold prison governors to account and make sure they deliver keeping staff and prisoners’ safe, improving education and cutting reoffending. We need also to make sure that we have the right workforce in place to drive reform. We will make sure we have appropriate staffing levels and consider how they are deployed and trained.
Overall, the prison system should promote and reward the right types of behaviour, those that promote safety and regimes that have prisoners engaged in purposeful, educational activity which will help them break the cycle of reoffending.
This plan must be deliverable. It will, therefore, include a clear set of metrics to assess the effectiveness of measures to inform decisions as we roll out.
We assure the Committee that the Ministry will provide updates on progress against our plans on a six monthly basis. We note the requests made in your report and will write to you separately, alongside publication of the prison safety and reform plan, on the details of the content of these reports.
12 September 2016