Centre responds to Prime Minister's prison speech

Monday, 08 February, 2016

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has responded to the latest speech from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, on plans to reform the prison system; 

Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

‘I’m glad that after more than five years in office the Prime Minister has noticed that our prisons are a national disgrace. Violence, self-harm, suicide and squalid living conditions are nothing new in our prisons. But they have all got worse since Mr Cameron has been in office.

‘The starting point of any coherent approach to our prisons is a clear commitment to a major reduction not just of prison numbers but of the criminal justice system more broadly.

'The Prime Minister’s proposed reforms are about the expansion and privatisation of criminal justice, rather than being a serious attempt to address the problems in our criminal justice system, or society more widely. They repeat many old mistakes, while adding some new ones.

'Mr Cameron’s seemingly progressive rhetoric is little more than a sugar-coating to what could be a very toxic pill'.

In the speech, Mr Cameron rejects the view that 'prisons are packed to the rafters with people who don't deserve to be there', claiming that 'It's actually pretty hard to get into prison in the first place'.

Key points in the speech include:

  • Plans to give police new powers to 'require foreign nationals to hand over their passports, and make them declare their nationality in court'.
  • An emphasis on greater autonomy; better transparency; and early intervention to fix underlying problems. The Prime Minister said 'This is the lesson from our troubled families programme. We know piecemeal, fragmented solutions don't work'.
  • Applying the 'academies model that has revolutionised our schools to the prison system'.
  • A greater role for businesses and charities in the operation of 'reform prisons' and the new prisons due to be built and the application of the academies model to prisons.
  • Exploring the use of free schools process to establish 'secure alternative provision academies' so that Young Offender Institutions can be turned into 'high-quality schools that will demand the highest standards'.
  • 'Swift and certain' punishment of drug offenders with instant imprisonment of 24 to 48 hours for testing positive for random drug tests in what Mr Cameron claims will be 'More punishments, delivered rapidly. A meaningful deterrent. That is how to bring about lasting behaviour change'.
  • An expansion of satellite tracking so that 'police and probation services can know where an offender is at all times' and used at the end of a sentence to 'dramatically toughen up community sentences'.

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies' Justice Matters initiative is working to radically downsize the criminal justice footprint in the UK. The initiative seeks to identify and promote policies that will result in a strategic withdrawal of criminal justice agencies, and for the creation of holistic responses to social problems that too often make up the criminal justice caseload.

To read more about alternatives to criminal justice, click here.