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Delivering better outcomes in prisons
What does the Prisons white paper say about how change will be achieved?

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Delivering better outcomes in prisons

When I summarised the government’s Prison Strategy White Paper at the start of last month, I promised to dig further into the detail in a series of posts. This is the fourth and last of that series and summarises Chapter Six of the white paper which is titled “Delivering better outcomes in prisons.”  The primary theme is one that has been much discussed in recent years – increased governor autonomy. The Government says it wants to put in place a “New Deal for Governors” with greater freedom and autonomy to shape how our strategic objectives are delivered in practice within our prisons. There are six key components of this new deal with a commitment to:

  1. Set clear expectations of Governors through transparent and measurable KPIs, outcome measures and targets for all prisons and their teams; this will include emphasis on reducing re-offending, improving safety and security, getting prisoners off drugs and improving basic skills such as numeracy and literacy; 
  2. Increase transparency by publishing prison level information, measuring performance against KPIs, that shows how Governors are meeting the priorities we set, and enabling comparison of prison performance across the estate in league tables, to support spreading best practice; 
  3. Empower our operational leaders, with greater earned autonomy for our strongest performers over the areas they need to innovate and deliver against their KPIs; 
  4. Ensure greater alignment across Prisons and Probation to deliver better end-to-end sentence management;
  5. Create a lasting autonomy framework to allow Governors to continue to innovate, rolling out best practice across the prison system, with clear expectations and accountability for delivery; 
  6. Continue to pursue legislative reform to provide Arm’s Length Bodies with the legislative framework needed to undertake more effective scrutiny.

Further details

As always, the devil is in the detail, and many of us are sceptical of league tables which, experience teaches us, tend to encourage creative interpretation of recording requirements and are not always the drivers of improvement they are intended to be. The paper highlights four key areas in which KPIs will be developed:

  1. Zero-tolerance to drugs, weapons and other aspects of safety and security such as reducing deaths and self-harm;
  2. Drug rehabilitation and a focus on moving towards meaningful recovery, through abstinence;
  3. Education training including literacy, numeracy and skills for work; and
  4. Strengthening resettlement through accommodation outcomes and family ties.

The white paper also promises that HMPPS will “develop and publish new granular prison level data that demonstrates progress against the improvements we want to see across the system”.

Governor autonomy also seems to be a performance system with those governors performing well on the KPIs in the league tables “earning” additional autonomy.

More transparency is also promised with the publication of a new prison performance dashboard and clear league tables.

© Andy Aitchison

Building back better?

This section is based around the ambition of building back better through the Future Regime Design programme which seems to mean much more in-cell delivery of services and more activities on wing to prevent the difficulties associated with moving people around the prisons including reducing the opportunities for violence. Many of us are worried that this will result in many people in prison spending more time in their cells and having less opportunity to go to workshops and other specialist provision.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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