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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

The future prison

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New RSA project "the Future Prison" seeks to develop a blueprint for a new prison system which has rehabilitation at its heart.

Rehabilitation centre stage

The prison reform measures announced in the Queen’s Speech provide an opportunity for the RSA to push an exciting initiative that they have been working on for some time (for a series of thought-provoking papers on the development of rehabilitative prisons see here).

A new RSA and Transitions Spaces paper outlines the scope of  The Future Prison which will:

  • Set out a blueprint for a future prison that places this challenge of rehabilitation centre stage. This will include exploring the potential for a not-for-profit model.
  • Identify what the government needs to do to ensure that the right legislative framework for funding, policy and governance is in place for such approaches to flourish in the short term and be sustained.

The project aims to explore the potential of autonomy, and even devolution, to drive rehabilitation and reduce risk. Through expert papers, seminars, and fieldwork in prisons, the project intends to develop proposals for new prison leadership, workforce development and for the role that those inside prison can play in improving outcomes. It argues that robust national leadership, coupled with greater freedoms for governors, could enable prisons to deploy funding and staff where they are most needed, embed innovation, strengthen relationships with local communities and economies, and adapt to local circumstances faster.

Prisons as the start of a process

The government’s emphasis on rehabilitation – alongside giving governors’ more freedom to do what is needed to support this – has the potential to transform prisons into places of learning and progression and wider community engagement. You can see a summary of Dame Sally Coates review into prison education here.

The RSA argues that if prisons are viewed as an end to a process rather than a potential new start, it proves much harder to engage local authorities, employers, the public, let alone staff and those in custody. It contends that effective rehabilitation benefits everyong: it make us safer by reducing reoffending but also reduces unemployment, dependence on welfare and wider impacts on families and neighbourhoods. It both requires and drives local buy-in.

Interestingly, the RSA seeks to cut through the public/private debate currently gathering steam by arguing for not-for-profit models of provision.

Echoing Tony Blair, the project’s mantra is:

Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation

The paper focuses on six main areas:

  • Risk and rehabilitation
  • Leadership, autonomy and devolution
  • Education and employment
  • Health and wellbeing
  • The Rehabilitative workforce
  • Service users and participation

The Future Prison project aims to be ambitious but pragmatic.  So for example, the RSA agrees with many others that the case for reducing the prison population is very strong; in particular, the growing consensus that short-term sentences often do more damage than good to the individual and do not serve to reduce reoffending.

Indeed,  one of the RSA’s arguments for a locally based and locally accountable criminal justice system is the potential this has to take the political sting out of the debate about setting targets and changing sentencing, and to drive better preventative approaches.

The Future Prison project says it will consider is the relationship between narrow short-term costs and wider shared value and impact. For example, to what extent could a more localist approach – based on the evidence that sustaining positive family relationships and having access to employment before leaving prison – inform where prisons are built and their size.

Interestingly, the project aims to explore the potential that autonomy may bring in terms of building to first principles and the potential for some
prisons to specialise on particular skills such as sustainability. It will explore other models of public service delivery, including what has and
has not worked when it comes to school academies and the foundation model for NHS Trusts, for lessons to be learnt.

Conclusion

The RSA has captured the political zeitgeist by relaunching this initiative; the foreword is written by Michael Gove and the Advisory Board includes Sally Coates, Nick Hardwick (till recently Chief Prison Inspector) and James Timpson among others.

The Future Prison project has set itself the target of publishing a blueprint for future not-for-profit models of provision by the end of 2016.

This initiative is likely to be key in shaping the nature of penal reform and, as such, I’ve decided to pay it considerable attention and will be writing a series of blog posts on the six main areas highlighted above over the next six Tuesdays.

 

Interested in being a prison inspector? See the advert here  [Closing date 10 July 2016.]

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