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Pushing on with prison reform
Rachel O'Brien says the New Futures Network will drive prison reform on the ground and argues that reform is the only way to return safety and positive regimes.

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This is a guest post by Rachel O’Brien (@racobrien), Director of the RSA prison reform Programme, who sets out the RSA’s proposal to the MoJ to support prison reform on the ground.. While everyone working and living in prisons is, naturally, mainly concerned with the current unsafe and worsening conditions, Ms O’Brien argues strongly in an accompanying RSA blog that reform is not a distraction from improving prison safety, but integral to it.

RSA’s New Futures Network Proposal Submitted to Ministry of Justice

Prisons exist to keep society safer. But to fight crime as effectively as possible, prisons must do more than just incapacitate criminals for the length of their sentence; they must ensure that when they leave jail they do not offend again.

Working closely with practitioners and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the RSA has been working on developing the New Futures Network (NFN), a proposed new body that aims to work with prison leaders to support reform and ensure that when prisoners return to their communities, they have the right skills to get a job, access to employers and are able to build a better life. Ultimately achieving this goal will require prisons and the criminal justice system to overcome long-term challenges, including coping with a lack of prison capacity, the prevalence of drugs, and a rise in the number of assaults, suicides and incidents of self-harm.

Between January and May this year, the RSA has consulted with a wide range of stakeholders in developing our proposal, which was submitted to the MoJ in July. It concludes that the New Futures Network (NFN) should aim to support prison leaders in responding to these challenges with particular focus on education, employment and local leadership. The Network should aim to:

  • Drive partnerships and innovation to boost people’s chances of leaving crime behind.
  • Broker sustainable strategic effective cross-sector relationships to support rehabilitation and employment.
  • Champion good practice that supports rehabilitation through informing, engaging and persuading.
  • Provide a channel of communication between frontline services and central government.

The RSA has proposed key strands of work focused on:

  • Developing employer networks locally linked to wider justice services;
  • Supporting prisons to identify their local assets – social, economic and community – that can support rehabilitation;
  • Enabling staff and prisoners to home grow innovation; and
  • Providing a space for exchanging ideas and experience about how prison reform is being implemented locally and nationally.

Ministers at the Ministry of Justice asked for the design of NFN to be independent of Whitehall, to encourage broad and deep engagement, genuine innovation, and positively challenge to the ‘status quo’. Whilst the RSA recommends that the NFN be sponsored by MoJ in the short term at least, the NFN must be allowed to flourish under an independent chair and expert advisory group. This will enable the NFN to gain the credibility required to bring about cultural change across the prison service, including shifting to a focus on increasing employment in and around prisons.

The RSA’s New Futures Network proposal has been welcomed by Ministers as part of the government’s wider safety and reform strategy and, will be considered alongside the MoJ’s employment strategy due to be published later this year.

If you would like more information about the consultation process and case studies please visit the site above or contact Jack Robson on

You can also keep up with the latest by following New Futures Network on Twitter:


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