Comment on reform prisons announcement

Wednesday, 18 May, 2016

Our Director, Richard Garside, today said that the government's plans for reform prisons were a 'tragic distraction from the big challenges of prison reform'.

Writing on the Centre's website, Richard argues:

'There is more than enough for Michael Gove to do to sort out the system-wide problems in prison. Which is why today's announcement of six 'reform prisons' is such a tragic distraction from the big challenges of prison reform.

'The six reform prisons amount to a mere five per cent of the current total of 121 prisons. If the reform prisons are successful on their own terms, the result will be half a dozen oases of progress, lost in a desert of deeply dysfunctional institutions.

'The reform prisons proposal is by no stretch of the imagination a serious response to the deep problems affecting the prison system. It is an eye-catching, small-scale experiment that will form the backdrop for shiny ministerial photo-opportunities while doing nothing to address the underlying malaise.'

Commenting on plans for reform prisons to be established as 'independent legal entities with the power to enter into contracts; generate and retain income; and establish their own boards', Richard writes:

'The idea that prisons should be income-generating entities is hardly a new one. Private prisons have for some years been part of the prison system. But the implication that reform prisons should operate as competitive, risk-taking outfits, pursuing exciting business opportunities to make up for a shortfall in central government funding is profoundly wrongheaded.'

A coherent programme of prison reform, Richard writes, must include 'a sustained effort to reduce the currently high prison population' and 'action to ground prison regimes in decency and respect: for staff, prisoners, families and visitors'.

Richard earlier discussed the plans on the Today programme, alongside the former President of the Prison Governors Association, Eoin McLennan-Murray.

Listen to the discussion here (One hour, nine minutes in).