Posts Tagged ‘prison reform’
The Prison and Courts Bill 2017 is a major piece of proposed legislation which aims to give effect to major reforms of both the prison service and the work of courts and tribunals.
The note deals with the first item – reform of the prison service.
The main policy objectives for prison reform were set out in the White Paper Prison Safety and Reform which was published in November 2016 and noted in this blog on 23 November 2016.
A good number of the proposed reforms do not actually require new legislation. They can be achieved by changes to the ways in which prisons are run, or by changes to the Prison Rules. But key changes do require legislation. These are dealt with in Part 1 of the new Bill.
The major changes may be set out as follows:
- The Bill will create a statutory purpose of prisons and updates the existing duties of the Secretary of State in relation to prisons (amending those created in the Prison Act 1952 (“the 1952 Act” ))
The Bill provides that “in giving effect to sentences or orders of imprisonment or detentionimposed by courts, prisons must aim to—
(a) protect the public,
(b) reform and rehabilitate offenders,
(c) prepare prisoners for life outside prison, and
(d) maintain an environment that is safe and secure.”
- It also imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to make an Annual Report to Parliament on the work of the prison service, measured against the criteria set out in the Bill.
- It creates Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, comprising Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons (an existing statutory office) and staff who carry out functions on the Chief Inspector’s behalf, places additional reporting requirements on the Chief Inspector in relation to prisons, and provides powers of entry and access to information to facilitate the exercise of the Chief Inspector’s statutory inspection functions in relation to prisons.
- It establishes the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (“PPO”) – currently a non-statutory appointment – as a statutory office, and provides the Secretary of State with the powers to add its remit.
- In relation to prison security, the Bill will enable public communication providers (“PCPs”) – for example, mobile phone network operators – to be authorised to interfere with wireless telegraphy to disrupt the use of unlawful mobile phones in custody.
- It also makes provision for the testing of prisoners for psychoactive substances (as defined in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016) within prisons.
For further detail about this Bill and links to relevant material, go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prisons-and-courts-bill-what-it-means-for-you
One reason to regret the departure of Michael Gove MP as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor – following the outcome of the Brexit referendum – was that he did not have the chance to follow through his ideas to improve the rehabilitation functions of prisons. His successor, Liz Truss MP, has taken up the mantle of prison reform. Following the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that there would be a Prisons Bill, the Government in November 2016 published a White Paper setting out in some more detail its proposals.
They include, and have been summarised in the Press Release:
Safe and secure prisons:
- Creating a new network of ‘no-fly’ zones to block drones flying dangerous illicit items into the prison estate, the fitting out of prisons with cutting edge technology to block illegal mobile phones; and testing offenders for drugs on entry and exit from prison;
- Rating prisons on their ability to run safe and decent regimes which reform offenders, cut crime, and keep streets safe – showing which prisons are making real progress in getting prisoners off drugs and into education and employment
- Enshrining in law what the public and Parliament can expect prisons to deliver– making sure prisons operate under a rigorous system of accountability, scrutiny and support, and holding the Secretary of State to account for their performance;
- Giving every single governor greater authority to run their prison the way they think best – moving power from the centre and into the hands of hard-working, trusted staff to deliver lasting improvements and equip offenders with the tools to lead a better life on release.
Stronger accountability and scrutiny:
Overhauling accountability and giving greater bite to the inspection regime so action is taken swiftly – and seriously – where prisons are failing in their duties – including a new emergency trigger for the Justice Secretary to take direct action, with sanctions including the issuing of formal improvement plans to ultimately replacing the leadership of the prison
These measures, which will require legislation, will be supplemented by a major programme of prison building, closing old prisons and replacing them with modern buildings.
In the view of many, the chances of success in reducing reoffending rates (which currently run at about 50%) will only be achieved if the prison population is reduced, so that the education, that Michael Gove was so keen to promote, can actually be provided. Indeed, the Lord Chief Justice, in evidence to the Justice Select Committee in November 2016, argued (as other senior judges have done before him) that more could be done by making community sentences more onerous, and keeping prisons for the most serious offenders.
The Prison Reform White Paper , Prison Safety and Reform, may be read at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/565014/cm-9350-prison-safety-and-reform-_web_.pdf
One of the most intractable issues in the criminal justice system is enabling prisons do more to try to draw offenders away from a life of crime and to become more productive and engaged citizens.
In the Queen’s Speech, delivered on 18 May 2016, the announcement of a new Prisons Bill was made. The details are not yet available but at the heart of the reforms are proposals to significantly improve educational opportunities for inmates – and to give Prison Governors more autonomy over how they run their prisons.
Accompanying the text of the Queen’s speech was an announcement that in the short-term 6 pilot ‘trailblazer’ reform prisons would be established to test the effectiveness of new approaches. The intention is that 5000 prisoners should be in the reform prisons by the end of 2016.
The importance of education of prisoners was emphasise in a review, published at the same time by Dame Sally Coates.
For further (preliminary) information on reform prisons see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-shake-up-of-prison-system-announced-as-part-of-queens-speech
The Coates report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison
The big challenge, noted by many commentators, is how such reforms can be made effective given the large numbers of people currently detained in prison. Many think that it will be essential for numbers in jail to be reduced if those who would really benefit from the reform proposals are to be helped.