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How does the prisons white paper say we will get safer prisons?

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Promoting good order and discipline

When I summarised the government’s Prison Strategy White Paper earlier this month, I promised to dig further into the detail in a series of posts. This is the second of that series and focuses on what the government says will be a new approach to making prisons safer. The strategy summarises the MoJ’s ambition in this area:

“There is no place for violent behaviour in prisons, which should be safe, orderly and decent places for both prisoners and staff. Prisons should be stable, generate hope and provide opportunities for prisoners to turn their lives around, through regimes that ensure time is well spent. And, when safety is undermined, this must be dealt with swiftly and effectively.”

The strategy sets out five priority areas to tackle over the next two years, promising to;

  1. Make significant progress against plans to deliver 290 ligature-resistant cells to protect vulnerable prisoners during a time of acute crisis;
  2. Introduce an Enhanced Support Service, which provides support for individuals from a prison officer, mental health nurse and psychologist, in prisons where violence is most prevalent;
  3. Through an innovation taskforce, consider the best interventions for violent prisoners or those who self-harm;
  4. Provide improved Body Worn Video Cameras to all staff who need them;
  5. Pilot technology that has the potential to monitor vulnerable prisoners’ health at a time of crisis, supporting the care given by prison officers to prevent suicide and self-harm.


It also sets out three longer terms aspirations for the ten years covered by the strategy:

  1. Ensure that prisons are as safe and decent for prisoners and staff as possible, using findings from studies and pilots to comprehensively address issues and develop our evidence base;
  2. Strengthen our cross government and local relationships to crack down on crime in prisons;
  3. Build a joined-up approach to safety across the whole prison system which offers hope, provides support, and prevents harm: we want to modernise technology so that staff have a better oversight of prisoner needs; and develop psychological training for staff and peer support training for prisoners.


The language used in this chapter reflects its title: “Tackling Violence, Preventing Harm and Promoting Good Order and Discipline”; one moment promising severe sanctions for prisoners who break the rules, the next acknowledging the need for a much better regime and improved training for staff. Here are some of the more positive commitments:

  • Skilled and resilient prison officers, better able to build positive staff-prisoner relationships;
  • A physical environment that meets the needs of our complex population;
  • Regimes that promote hope and engagement through well-planned, structured activity, and make the best use of technological advances to support safer prisons;
  • Technology which gives staff flexibility and time to build positive relationships with prisoners, enables prisoners to take ownership of their own care and wellbeing, and enhances the way prison officers monitor and protect prisoners from self-harm and suicide.
© Andy Aitchison

Investment in security

There is a considerable amount in the strategy promising to tighten up security to prevent drugs and mobile phones getting into prisons, most of it already covered in MoJ press releases over the last few months predominantly talking about the introduction of X-Ray body scanners. There are also, however, more thoughtful initiatives aimed at targeting the very high levels of self-harm. 

These include a new ‘Enhanced Support Service’ to local prisons, where self-harm levels are often highest. This involves a roving team, including a mental health nurse, a psychologist and a prison officer, to work with the prisoner, and the staff working with them, to address their risk factors.

Regime change

It is, however, quite difficult to decipher exactly what the government means by “building back better prison regimes”. Alongside a commitment to better education, employment and resettlement opportunities and more governor autonomy to design their own regimes, there is a worrying discussion of how prisons were safer during the pandemic when everyone was locked up in their cells for 23 hours a day. It is not clear whether the government is signalling that it wants more structured activities in the day but everyone banged up with no association in the evenings and weekends. If you’re involved in building a better regime, please let myself and readers know what this means in practice via the comments section below.

Investment in technology

As everyone knows, the pandemic proved a powerful catalyst to the prison service finally adopting digital technology and the chapter ends with a commitment to modernise and give prisoners more control over their own appointments by using kiosks. There is also a commitment to expand telemedicine although this seems to be primarily about people having one-off video interviews with the providers of community services prior to release.

The next post in this series (probably in the New Year) will focus on what the strategy paper says about rehabilitation and resettlement.


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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