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The white paper: Prison Safety and Reform

The 2015-17 Conservative government published a white paper on Prison Safety and Reform in November 2016. It set out proposals which aimed to deal with increasing levels of violence and self-harm in prisons and the persistently high levels of reoffending. A central proposal was greater autonomy for prison governors which was being piloted in six ‘reform prisons’.

Other key proposals included were:

  • ‘sharper’ inspection and scrutiny arrangements
  • Additional funding with 2500 more prison officers by 2018
  • More extensive drug testing, including on entry to and exit from prison
  • New prison league tables covering public protection, safety and order, time out of cells and prisoners’ progress in education, health and work
  • A stronger role for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons
  • A new duty for the Secretary of State to intervene when prisons are failing
  • All prisoners to be allocated a dedicated officer to oversee their progression through custody.

The Prisons and Courts Bill 2016-17

The white paper was followed by the introduction of the Prisons and Courts Bill published in February 2017. The Bill contained provisions relating to a number of the reforms set out in the white paper which required legislation. The Bill had second reading in March 2017 but did not complete committee stage, falling at the dissolution of Parliament in May 2017.

The Prisons and Courts Bill 2016-17 contained clauses concerning:

  • the statutory purpose of prisons;
  • the role of the Secretary of State in relation to prisons;
  • the role and powers of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons;
  • the status and powers of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman;
  • disruption of unlawful mobile phone use; and
  • testing for new psychoactive substances.

For detail regarding the Bill see the Library briefing The Prison and Courts Bill – Prison aspects, 15 March 2017, prepared for second reading. Also: Justice Committee, Prison reform: Part 1 of the Prisons and Courts Bill, HC 1150, 28 April 2017.

The 2017 Queen’s Speech and an open letter from the Justice Secretary

The Conservative party manifesto for the 2017 general election included measures on prison reform. No prison reform legislation was announced in the 2017 Queen’s Speech on 21 June 2017. Some expressed disappointment, including the Chief Inspector of Prisons who called it a missed opportunity. In an open letter published on the same day the newly appointed Justice Secretary, David Lidington, said that work on prison reform would continue. In October 2017 he stated that the Government was developing an update to the 2016 white paper and would soon be publishing a prison safety strategy and action plan.

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