Rory Stewart has only been the prisons minister for a couple of weeks, but he’s already set himself an ambitious goal. Following the release of a report on appalling conditions at HMP Liverpool, Stewart said he won’t have been doing his job unless conditions have improved in jails across England and Wales within a year. He replaced Sam Gyimah in Theresa May’s reshuffle – a move which was widely seen as an unexpected demotion from minister of state for the Foreign Office. Stewart has indicated that he plans to be more involved in the way jails are run than previous ministers, and if he keeps his word, he could help to bring about long-term improvements in the prison system.
Who Is Rory Stewart?
Rory Stewart is a Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border. He is also a traveller, senior diplomat, academic, founder of a charity, author and documentary maker. He has won numerous awards and was appointed OBE in 2004. As a governor in Iraq, Stewart’s responsibilities included holding elections, implementing development projects and resolving tribal disputes. He founded the human development NGO, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, taught Human Rights and Intervention at Harvard University and published an award-winning book on his 6,000-mile hike through countries including Iraq and Pakistan.
Why Did Theresa May Move Him?
Before May’s reshuffle, Stewart was minister of state, working across the Foreign Office and Department for International Development. Given his experience as a former governor in Iraq and diplomat in Montenegro, he was considered well-matched to the role, and his appointment as prisons minister left some commentators scratching their heads.
“Rory Stewart one of parliament’s few foreign policy specialists currently writing new government Africa strategy from perch at Dfid, is incarcerated as prisons minister,” said the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour. “Act of spite or idiocy. No third option.”
The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn said moving Stewart “topped the lot” of all the odd decisions made in the reshuffle.
Promise of Clean, Safe Prisons
Following a damning report on rat-infested HMP Liverpool, Stewart promised to “get back to basics” and ensure clean, safe jails across England and Wales. Inspectors said the conditions at Liverpool Prison were the worst they had ever seen, with cockroaches, piles of rubbish, drugs and violence. Stewart visited the jail, where almost every cell window was broken on one wing.
He said he disagreed with previous prison ministers, who had felt that it was not their job to get involved in the running of prisons.
“My instinct is we need to get back to basics,” he said. “We need to absolutely insist that we are going to run clean, decent prisons. There have been too many very abstract conversations in the past two years about grand bits of prison policy.
“We are turning up and saying, ‘Why is this a filthy prison?’ and asking, ‘Why has it not been cleaned?’, and people want to talk about grand issues of sentencing policy or reoffending policy. Making prisoners feel they are in a safe environment without broken windows is really important.”