The Chancellor, George Osborne, has set out his priorities for the Spending Review and identified the country's prisons 'as an example of one public service badly in need of reform'.
Mr Osborne called for a need to focus on rehabilitation and training – to be pursued by Justice Secretary, Michael Gove. He also announced a prison building programme:
But there’s something else we need to do: modernise the prison estate. So many are relics from Victorian times, soulless, bleak places which can actually encourage a life of crime. Squalid areas where bullying is rife; overcrowded areas where people sit in idleness, nothing expected of them. And to top it all off, many of them are on prime real estate in our inner cities.
So today I can announce that prison reform will be a key part of the Spending Review. We will start to close some of our old outdated prisons in city centres, and sell the sites for housing. In their place, we will build nine new prisons – all of which are modern, suitable and rehabilitative.
Speaking today, our Director Richard Garside said:
'Our old and crumbling prisons should be closed and something fit for human habitation built in their place. But this should be affordable housing for the public, not more prison places.
'To deliver meaningful prison reform, we need to take capacity out of the system, not replace old prisons with new ones. Most sane observers accept that there are far too many people in our prisons. Michael Gove has said he he wants to see fewer people in prison.
'Replacing old prisons with new ones is a short-sighted and contradictory policy.'
Commenting last month on calls from Michael Gove to 'transform' the criminal justice system, the Centre's Senior Associate, Rebecca Roberts, said the proposals were a 'wolf in sheep's clothing' and would result in 'an expansion of punishment driven in partnership with the private sector'.
The Centre's director, Richard Garside, has previously criticised such prison building proposals:
We should... set our sights higher and start to imagine a future without prisons. For sure there will be those whose acts of violence might require containment in the interests of public safety. They do not need to be in prisons nor places of punishment. The footprint in society of such institutions would also be far smaller than that occupied by the prison system.
Rather than planning the next generation of prisons we should be addressing the underlying problems that creates the need for prisons in the first place. This cannot be done overnight. It would, though, be a fitting legacy to hand on to the next generation.
Richard has also called for the demolition of Pentonville prison and for it to be replaced by affordable housing.
On Thursday 19 November, the Centre will be hosting an academic roundtable on the question 'Is criminal justice reform obsolete'. Find out more here.