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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

What does a good prison look like?

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Excellent new discussion paper from Clinks looks to develop a constructive dialogue about how our soon-to-be-reformed prison system should look.

Putting meat on the bones of penal reform

The Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, is committed to tearing down our antiquated Victorian prisons and building new ones that are “fit for purpose.”

But what does that mean?

An excellent new discussion paper from Clinks seeks to answer the question.

Entitled The Rehabilitative Prison: What does “good” look like?, the paper aims to Clinks rehab prisonpromote a constructive dialogue with government, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and National Offender Management Service (NOMS), the voluntary sector and others about how all partners can work collaboratively to achieve prison reform focused on rehabilitation.

The paper is structured around a discussion of the proposed prison reforms, (although these are admittedly quite vague to date). It first explores the potential for local areas to reduce the current pressures on the prison system through their own commissioning of alternative provision, before considering how a reformed prison system focused on rehabilitation might be constructed around the learning from desistance research.

Clinks make the point that the male and female estates present radically different needs and profiles and will require very different reformative approaches if they are to deliver ‘good’ rehabilitation.

These issues, the disproportionate numbers of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in prison, and the needs of young adults; older and disabled people; and lesbian, gay and transgender (LGBT) prisoners all receive dedicated discussion within the paper.

The paper explores a large number of key questions in a robust and coherent way which make it difficult to condense into a short blog post.

I heartily recommend you read the whole report.

Get involved

Clinks have chosen the term “discussion paper” carefully, the document is an open invitation to get involved in a constructive debate over the future of our prison system.

It therefore feels most helpful for me to reproduce some of the key questions that the paper poses:

  • Do you think a smaller prison population is a pre-requisite for a reformed prison system focused on rehabilitation?
  • What potential exists for local areas to take responsibility for custody budgets and to develop more robust community interventions to facilitate desistance at home or close to home?
  • What might a prison regime look like that addresses each individual’s reoffending risk factors and does so within an environment geared to supporting long-term desistance?
  • How should reception and induction be designed and delivered to create the right starting conditions for rehabilitation?
  • How should governors be measured on their delivery of a safe, decent and humane prison?
  • How could prison officer time be increased to permit continuity and quality of relationship?
  • How could governors more routinely harness the potential of voluntary sector organisations and other non CJS community organisations to help support desistance?
  • How might desistance principles inform the design of the nine new prisons – both the buildings and the regimes?
  • How could NOMS call on the expertise of prisoners and their families to involve them in good prison design?
  • Within a more devolved system, what might a ‘community prison’ look like, with greater local involvement, accountability and follow-up?

This list of questions represents only about a quarter of the challenges posed in the discussion document, but I hope you’ll agree, there’s plenty to get your teeth into.

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