Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The battle for prison reform – so far

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A timeline of the main events in the battle for prison reform. A clickable resource including background information on main policy documents, speeches etc.


This post and the accompanying infographic was published in summer 2016 and was intended to provide a dynamic and interactive timeline of the government’s prison reform initiative which was launched by Michael Gove and David Cameron after the 2015 general election and formed the centre piece of the Queen’s Speech to parliament in May 2016.

Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech delivered on 21 June 2017) confirmed the official end to prison reform as a political priority with the Prisons and Courts Bill which was suspended in the final stages of going through parliament when the Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election confined to the dustbin of history.

While there will be new legislation to facilitate court modernisation; there will be no new law enshrining the purpose of prison as rehabilitation or giving the prison inspector and Prisons and Probation Ombudsman more formal powers.

David Lidington, the Justice Secretary, has vowed in an open letter that prison reform will continue but there is no denying that dropping the accompanying legislation takes momentum out of the process.

The timeline below now serves as a memorial to an opportunity missed in the words of Prison Chief Inspector Peter Clarke:

Clicking on the text attached to any of the dates will take you to more detail of that event.

[Infographic last updated on 22 June 2017]

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7 Responses

  1. But, should have said that your piece on proven re-offending stats has been a brilliant help to me in my work in trying to help establish a probation Service in the Republic of Macedonia

  2. Love your wordle…….

    Think your time line really good……I thought the Harris Review in July 2015 started highlighting some of the wider issues wondered whether that should be included?
    Will change at the senior level of NOMS be the only catalyst for immediate action to make prisons safer for all now, not 2017?

    1. Thanks very much for your comment Helen
      In my opinion the Harris review was important but focused mainly on young adult offenders, an issue picked up by the Justice Select Committee with an unusually hard hitting report last month (
      Clearly staff recruitment, and even, more importantly, retention, are going to be critical issues but, in my opinion, need to go hand in hand with reform so that staff can be part of a positive service going in a positive direction.
      Best Wishes

  3. Hi Russell, I wonder if the ORA 2014 might also have some impact on the way the government is using the prison system as a wider reform to sentencing, which also impacts on the need for prison reform. Perhaps Gove recognised the ‘Grayling effect’ on an increase in prison population? We now have a situation where more short term prisoners can become subjected to enforcement action during a PSS period, which is essentially, an extended sentence in the community! Truss, however, appears non-cognisant of the cause and effect of past policy approaches by my most humble observations. The rather impressive, logical Dutch approach surely cannot go unnoticed. Then I suppose ideology has a blinding effect to such policy makers.

    1. Hi Stephen
      Thanks for your comment. My view is that everyone knows that the prison population is much higher than it needs to be and that the key to successful reform is to reducing it. However, ever since the run up to the 97 election (“tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”) neither leading political party has felt able to say this openly.
      Michael Gove, in particular, was very keen to avoid this for fear of media criticism and any reform process being stopped in its tracks.

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