Prison Shake-Up: The Implications for UK Prisons

By Policy Exchange [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsEarlier this month, Minister for Justice, Liz Truss, announced in a report that the prison system was ‘not working’. The article, which featured in the Mail Online, launched a scathing attack on the current prison system, identified a series of problems, and suggested ways to tackle the main issues.

Here’s more detail about Truss’s report, and the longer-term implications for prisons in the UK.

“The Human Cost is Incalcuable”

In her article, Truss begins by stating that as a society, we should be “deeply troubled that we don’t know how many offenders are just marking time in jail, and how many are working hard to turn their lives around.”

She refers to the escalating rate of reoffending, identifying that close to half of all inmates go on to commit a further crime within 12 months of their release. In a bold move, Truss also clearly states the cost this has on society – £15 billion in total. Breaking the figures down, she stated that it was the equivalent of £630 per household in England and Wales.

The Need for Rehabilitation

In a welcome statement, Truss announced that, although punishment for crime was important, so too was successful rehabilitation. The article shared some damning statistics about the current state of prisons in the UK. Violence is escalating, with 65 assaults against prison staff happening every day. Astonishingly, close to £90 million has been paid out to prison guards in compensation since 2011, again, at the tax-payer’s cost.

Likewise, suicide rates have risen by 21% in the space of a year, and in the year to June 2016, there were nearly 24,000 violent incidences amongst inmates. It’s cause for serious concern, and Truss’s new plans aim to address the matter head-on.

Truss’s Plans for the Future

Despite concerns earlier this year that Truss wouldn’t be carrying out Gove’s plans for prison reform, indications seem to be that certain aspects of the scheme will go ahead. Governors will have greater autonomy in prisons, and will be able to control the provision of education and rehabilitation schemes.

2,500 new prison staff will also be recruited in a bid to cope with the UK’s rising prison population, which currently stands at close to 86,000 people. Truss has also stated that she will start closing “old, dilapidated prisons and replacing them with modern facilities”, which will go some way to addressing the problem of overcrowding and poor living conditions.

However, Truss emphasises that prison governors will be held accountable. The Secretary of State will have the right to intervene if the prison is deemed to be underperforming, and will step in to ensure the appropriate steps are being made to improve the situation.

Is it Enough?

At this stage, it’s difficult to say whether Truss’s plans will successfully address the situation or not. The fact is – UK prisons are in a parlous state, and even the most rigorous of reforms will take a while to yield results.

Hopefully, allowing the prison governors more autonomy over the running of their prisons, plus making them accountable for their decisions, should improve the prison system as a whole. However, it is likely to be a few years before the UK sees a noticeable difference.

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