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Justice Secretary invests in prison reform
David Gauke announces £30m for in-cell phones, maintenance catch-up and body scanners.

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Incentives and Sanctions

On Tuesday (10 July), Justice Secretary David Gauke gave a major speech on prison reform at Conservative Justice Secretaries’ favourite venue, the Centre for Social Justice.

You can see the speech in full below, but here are Mr Gauke’s main points:


Mr Gauke made a plea for more community sentences and a reduction in the number of short custodial sentences but did not suggest that he would be addressing sentencing or set out any other strategy for reducing the prison population.

Getting the basics right

This is the political catchphrase which acknowledges that our prisons have become unsafe and in a state of disrepair, exacerbated by Carillion’s poor performance and subsequent liquidation. He announced investment of £30 million, of which £16m would be spent on improving 11 of the worst maintained prisons. £7m is to be invested in extending in-cell telephony and digital kiosks (see below for the other £7m).

The Justice Secretary also repeated the government’s pledge to build “up to” 10,000 new prison places, although I understand plans have been deferred to enable the MoJ budget to be balanced this year.


Mr Gauke said £6m will be invested in enhancing prison security, mainly on body scanners and mobile phone blocking to seek to reduce the amount of drugs which come into prison and reduce the ability of some prisoners to continue to run drug dealing operations from custody.

The final £1m is being spent on an ew digital categorisation tool which HMPPS has been trialling to better assess an offender’s risk of being involved in organised crime. The system currently relies on offence type and sentence length to categorise prisoners. This new digital tool takes information from a range of sources to help staff better assess what risks an offender poses – whether that’s violence, escape or disrupting order.  The main idea behind this appears to be to disrupt criminal gangs operating in prisons by identifying ringleaders and putting them in higher security establishments.

Incentives and sanctions

Mr Gauke still relies heavily on the language of incentives and sanctions from his time at the Department of Work and Pensions (although official research has found that sanctions merely discourages people from claiming the benefits they are entitled to). He dedicated a significant part of his speech to “rewarding rehabilitation”. The quote below gives you a flavour of this approach.

Some prisons already have ‘enhanced’ wings - with small rewards like additional time out of cells and access to kitchen facilities - for those offenders who behave well and work hard. This allows them to prepare their own meals, take showers when they choose and generally take responsibility for managing their own time. These wings are appreciated by prisoners and they understand that if they break the rules they can quickly be returned to the standard wing. Wherever possible within the constraints of the estate, I want to support governors to develop these simple but effective approaches.

David Gauke, Justice Secretary

The Justice Secretary went on to talk about “Incentivised Substance Free Living” – a return to drug free wings, which, when properly resourced, were found to be effective when they were being rolled out a decade or more ago.

More Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) is also included within this Incentives and Sanctions model around which there will be consultation with “governors and stakeholders” this summer.


It is good to see the Justice Secretary pushing the prison reform agenda and putting a small amount of investment back into the system. In-cell telephones will be welcomed by almost everyone. For the Incentives and Sanctions model to work, we need a culture change within prisons with a greater focus on rehabilitation otherwise we can expect the emphasis to be much more on sanctions than incentives. We must also beware making basic human rights — such as more contact with families — an earned incentive. I look forward to seeing the details of the model in the near future.

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