This is a guest post by Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Select Committee.
Scrutinising prison reform
I would like to start by welcoming the new Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP to the Department. As Chair of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, I, along with my colleagues, look forward to working constructively with her as we seek to hold her and her Department to account.
Immediately before she was appointed the Committee heard from her predecessor, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, as we sought to get further details on the Government’s plans for prison reform, which formed the centrepiece of the Government’s agenda in the May 2016 Queen’s Speech. He anticipated that a consultation paper on the reforms would be published in October, with the Prison and Courts Reform Bill following in the new calendar year. The new Secretary of State has indicated that there will be no substantial change to the programme of reform.
A major high level inquiry
The Justice Committee wishes to scrutinise the Ministry of Justice’s programme of prison reform as it unfolds and is implemented. We announced today a major high level inquiry into the Government’s proposals to enable us to hear early observations about the plans that have been announced so far. This has been described by the Ministry as the “largest reform programme since Victorian times” and encompasses:
- reforms to the role of prison governors, initially through the creation of six reform prisons which have been in operation since 1 July 2016, then through the introduction of legislation that is likely to facilitate the creation of prison trust or foundation
- central and cross-departmental commissioning and procurement arrangements for prison-based services, including health and education
- £1.3bn prison estate modernisation programme, including the development of nine new prisons (five in this Parliament) and the closure of inner city Victorian prisons
- the Government’s devolution agenda with regards to courts, youth justice, and probation and prison budgets.
We wish to seek overall views initially which will be followed up in greater detail with a series of sub-inquiries as more details of the various elements of the programme emerge, including following the publication of the White Paper expected in October 2016. Further calls for evidence will be announced in due course.
Given that these reforms are radical and far-reaching, and having spoken to some experts on prisons about the opportunities afforded by these reforms, we feel that the time is right also to reflect on what we want modern prisons to do, and accordingly what a new strategy for the modernisation of the prison estate should encompass.
We are equally conscious that the prison reforms are operating within the context of a prison system that is operating in extremely challenging circumstances.
We are expecting soon the Government’s substantive response to the Committee’s report on Prison Safety, in which we asked the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service, urgently to address the ongoing and accelerating decline in prison safety with an action plan. This prompted £10 million additional funding to 69 public sector prisons. Alongside this new inquiry, I can assure you therefore that we intend to continue to monitor the Department and NOMS’ performance on prison safety very closely.
Call for evidence
We would welcome evidence addressing all or any of the following terms of reference by 30 September 2016:
1: What should be the purpose(s) of prisons?
How should i) the prison estate modernisation programme and ii) reform prisons proposals best fit these purposes and deal most appropriately with those held?
What should be the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of i) prison staff ii) prison governors iii) National Offender Management Service iv) Ministry of Justice officials and Ministers and v) other agencies and departments in creating a modern and effective prison system?
2: What are the key opportunities and challenges of the central components of prison reform so far announced by the Government, and their development and implementation?
3: What can be learnt from existing or past commissioning and procurement arrangements for i) private sector prisons and ii) ancillary prison services which have been outsourced?
4: What principles should be followed in constructing measures of performance for prisons?
5: What can be learnt from i) other fields, notably health and education and ii) other jurisdictions about the creation of prison trusts or foundations and related performance measures?
6: Are existing mechanisms for regulation and independent scrutiny of prisons fit for purpose?
7: What are the implications for prison reform of i) the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and ii) devolution of criminal justice budgets now and in the future?
The Committee looks forward to hearing your views. Submissions should be made via the webportal on our inquiry pages.