Massive reform of prison system

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

David Gauke MP, the Justice Secretary, has announced a £30million package to tackle organised crime in prisons and introduce incentives for good behaviour.

New technology will be used to identify, target and disrupt ‘Criminal lynchpins’ who orchestrate gangs from
behind bars.

As part of action to enhance safety, security and decency across the estate, a new digital tool will enable prisons to build a more detailed picture of the kind of risk a prisoner is likely to present – including the likelihood of involvement in organised crime.

Following a successful trial, the digital tool – which assesses information from various law enforcement databases to create a central ‘risk rating’ for each prisoner – will be rolled out across the country over the next year, at a cost of £1million.
Mr Gauke said: “We must make it clear to these gangs that criminality stops at the prison gate. We have already identified some of the worst offenders coordinating drug supply from the inside and moved them to other prisons to cut them off from their market.

‘This includes people using drones and visitors to smuggle drugs and mobile phones into prisons, and those seeking to corrupt prison staff and coerce other prisoners – through
intimidation or fear – to get involved in criminal activity.

‘Removing these individuals disrupts supply routes and, just like any organisation, this lack of leadership paralyses the gangs and stops them from getting business done.”

Mr Gauke’s new plan to deal with the state of British Prisons comes after multiple stories indicating prisons are at breaking point, and the pressure they are under – due to both a lack of funding and now clearly of experience too – has led to big mistakes. A report recently found that hundreds of sex offenders had been released from HMP Dartmoor despite posing a public risk, a result of “unplanned” release.

Prisoners at Exeter jail built barricades 15 times last year, as levels of protests at the prison reached record levels. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that the number of incidents at the prison where one of more offenders denied access to all or part of the prison by use of a physical barrier rose from six times in 2016/2017 to 15 times in 2017/18.

Last year, HMP Channings Wood was described as a “prison in decline” in a report by the chief inspector of prisons. In his report, Peter Clarke said the Devon jail was struggling to cope and safety had deteriorated. He found inmates did not feel safe and the level of violence had “increased noticeably” since the last inspection in 2012. £7million is going to be spent on improvements to safety with a full range of new security measures including airport style scanners, which have already proved effective at HMP Belmarsh.

The Justice Secretary also announced that the MOJ will be working with the prison service, police and CPS to update the ‘Crime in Prisons Protocol’, to enhance the response to crime behind bars. New training for prison staff, due to be rolled out by Autumn, will focus on crime scene preservation to make sure investigators and prosecutors have the evidence.

“For ten prisons with significant drug problems,” said the Justice Secretary, “our Drugs Taskforce – made up of partners from law enforcement and healthcare agencies and which supports the whole estate with better security and intelligence, is applying a real focus. We will carry out a drug diagnostic with each of these ten prisons, which will help us – and them – understand better what is happening in the jails.

‘These diagnostics will then be used to address specific problems at each individual prison. As we start to address the issues in these ten prisons, I want to see them at the vanguard of how we do it right across the estate. Taking their experiences and evidence will give us the opportunity to learn lessons about how we get drugs and the gangs supplying them out of our prisons for good.”

A new plan to control prisoners through the incentives scheme is also part of government strategy. The Ministry of Justice says that as part of his drive to improve opportunities for compliant prisoners who want to reform and turn their backs on crime, the Justice Secretary has outlined plans for an enhanced ‘incentives and earned privileges’ scheme.

Under this scheme, governors will be given the autonomy to identify what works best in the context of their prison – for instance, if they have excellent gym facilities, prisoners could be given extra access if they engage in education and employment programmes. Likewise, these privileges can be revoked if prisoners do not behave well.

The MoJ will also explore plans for enhanced drug-free wings where prisoners can live in better conditions if they agree to undergo regular testing – which are already operating in some prisons. Mr Gauke said: “As well as helping offenders to keep on track, we also need to give them hope for the future and the tools to build a bright one.

‘So, we need to create prison regimes that encourage offenders to engage positively with clear pathways to progress. By using this type of incentives and sanctions model, I believe we can change the dynamic within prisons, creating environments built on mutual respect and trust – where prisoners know what is expected of them and what they can expect in return.”

“Building on the idea of enhanced wings,” he continued, “we have developed a concept called ‘Incentivised Substance Free Living’, where prisoners who demonstrate – through regular testing- that they are clean of drugs, can experience better living conditions.

“This is not about giving them an easy life – overcoming addiction is not easy. But for those who persevere, we want to offer targeted support and better drug-free living conditions in ten prisons over the coming year. This will give drug misusers the opportunity to take responsibility for their own recovery and give them the best possible chance to stay on the straight and narrow.

“That’s why we are deploying workplace Release on Temporary Licence. In the right circumstances, the offer of this type of temporary release can incentivise offenders to cooperate during their sentences – and the release itself gives them opportunities to learn new skills which can help them to succeed when they finish their sentence. This is a vital piece of the puzzle.”

Perhaps the most innovative part of the new programme is Mr Gauke’s plan to spend £7million putting telephones into prison cells across the prison estate. He says this will end the need for queues for public phones which are often the cause of violence and assaults. The phones will work the same as the old PIN phones with all numbers needing to be cleared and routine recording of conversations. A positive side of this is that prisoners will be able to telephone friends and family at times when they are at home.

The restricted regimes caused by cuts in staff have meant that, for many prisoners, calling family members can be all but impossible causing worry and distress on both sides of prison walls. It hasn’t been announced how the new phones will allow for privacy in
shared cells.

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