Prisons strategy: the next 10 years

Work with offenders on the 10 year prisons strategy white paper

It’s been a busy week in government. Yesterday the new 10 year drugs plan was published, now the Ministry of Justice has published its Prisons Strategy White Paper also setting out a vision for the next 10 years. So let’s have a look at the main priorities.

Prison building 

It will be no surprise to readers that the emphasis in the white paper is the huge (£3.5bn) investment in building new prisons and the commitment to provide 20,000 more prison places “to protect the public through punishment and incapacitation of offenders.”

The second focus of the strategy is on safer prisons: “tackling violence, preventing harm and promoting good order and discipline.” The key commitments within this section include:

  • More technology to detect drugs, phones and weapons (including X-Ray body scanners)
  • The roll-out of new, improved Body Worn Video Cameras.
  • Testing remote ways to monitor vulnerable prisoners’ vital signs.
  • An enhanced support service for prisons holding people with the most complex needs.
  • Additional support (co-designed with the Samaritans) for prisons to help staff and people in prison cope with the aftermath of self-inflicted deaths.
  • A peer support model in “selected” prisons employing people with lived experience.
  • A major study into how debt is spread across the prison estate, the scale of the problem and how best to tackle it.
  • A Future Regime Design project which seems to be about “building back better” after the pandemic and which appears that it might restrict the time available for people in prison to socialise.
  • The introduction of technology, both kiosks for people to book appointments and telemedicine.
  • Changes to the adjudication system including the possibility of bringing forward secondary legislation to support swift sanctions which better support positive behavioural change through the introduction of ‘fast track adjudications’.

Cutting crime and protecting the public 

There is also a substantial section dedicated to enhancing rehabilitation and resettlement both in prison and on release. The main promises are to:

  • Improve drug testing and deliver access to a full range of drug and mental health treatment, including abstinence-based drug treatment options;
  • Strengthen continuity of drug treatment on release, so prisoners with drug misuse problems continue to make progress towards meaningful recovery;
  • Deliver a Prisoner Education Service which equips prisoners with the numeracy, literacy, skills and qualifications they need to get jobs or apprenticeships after they leave custody;
  • Transform the opportunities for work in prisons and on Release on Temporary License (ROTL) to increase job prospects for prison leavers;
  • Scale up specialist roles tested in our Accelerator Prisons project to support work to reduce reoffending;
  • Introduce new Resettlement Passports, bringing together the essentials that prison leavers need to lead crime-free lives on release into one place.

Interestingly, there is a welcome inclusion of the probation service in this section, possibly a first for a prisons white paper.

A new approach to women's prisons 

The government says that its long-term ambition is to deliver a women’s estate that is safe, decent, fair and designed for women; one that supports rehabilitation and positive outcomes by being trauma-responsive; and empowers and enables women in custody to address the causes of their reoffending. The white paper says it will start by:

  • Delivering a bespoke model of training and staff development in women’s prisons;
  • Increasing open provision in the women’s estate;
  • Providing appropriate support for pregnant women or those with very young children.

There is a pledge to make the women’s estate both trauma-informed and trauma responsive. Work with offenders will cover the detail of the plans for women in prison in a separate post in the next few days.

Conclusion 

There is, of course, a fundamental challenge to the government in the way it has gone about this white paper: will it be able to rapidly improve the current prison system at the same time as setting out on a fast-track scheme to build another 20,000 prison places? MoJ and HMPPS staff may well be stretched to the limit to achieve both of these goals.