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Summary of Michael Gove's appearance before the House of Commons Justice Committee setting out his plans for penal reform.

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Michael Gove’s appearance before the Justice Committee

Michael Gove appeared before the House of Commons Justice Select Committee earlier this week (Wednesday 16 March 2016) in a “one-off evidence session on Prison Reform following the Prime Minister’s speech of 8 February 2016”.

Mr Gove was on relaxed form, quite willing to acknowledge difficulties and challenges. Details about prison reform plans are still very sketchy, even to the extent that Holloway is the only prison that has been publicly named as an old institution which will be closed down. Overall, he was keen to play down expectations and said that he hoped by introducing changes, the prison population would fall which would enable more wholesale change.

You can watch the session in full by clicking on the image at the bottom of the page. For those of you without the time and/or inclination, I’ve highlighted some key points and quotes below:

Points of interest

  • Michael Gove has invited distinguished criminologists and desistance experts like Shadd Maruna (@criminology) and Alison Liebling (@AlisonLiebling) into the MoJ for roundtable discussions.
  • The main measure likely to be in the upcoming Prison Reform Bill is a way of creating a legal foundation for independent prisons (similar to the legal status of academy schools).
  • There are likely to be three types of measurement informing the new prison league tables:
    • Aspirational, long term objectives such as the number and quality of educational qualifications gained and resettlement goals – the number of jobs and housing found on release and reoffending rates.
    • Dipstick measures — a quick way of inspectors to find out how a prison is doing — the one example given was the number of hours out of cell.
    • Governors telling us how they want to be held to account — if league tables are too rigid, they can result in perverse behaviour
  • The MoJ will be publishing a white paper in the spring about how prisons will be measured.
  • Problem-solving courts will be part of the prison reform process.
  • He acknowledged that prisons have a real problems with legal highs/New Psychoactive Substances.
  • Mr Gove also acknowledged that there are many prisoners with serious mental health problems and that prison is not the right environment for them.
  • He will be saying more shortly about technology to block mobile phones in prison.
  • The current system of categorising prisoners is under review.
  • Prison governors will have the autonomy to set the education curriculum in their establishments.
  • The MoJ will announce shortly what will happen to the OLASS contracts.
  • Ban the box is happening now (not having to disclose previous convictions automatically).


“It’s about turning prisoners from liabilities into assets.”

“My hope is that without changing the sentencing regime in an artificial way… by ensuring that we turn round the lives of those in prison at the moment, we can begin to bring the prison population down… It would be damaging if people believed that we were trying to massage the prison population down by telling Judges and Magistrates what to do.”

“We do have a problem with crowding. I would not say we have extreme overcrowding…the ideal would be one prisoner in each room and we are very far from that.”

“Raw data can only tell you so much. But once you start measuring, you generate improvements and then you can refine the measures.”

“I’ve come to appreciate what a big factor mental health is in criminality.”

“Modernisation of the prison estate is a key part of what we want to achieve.”

“We do need to think hard about alternatives to custody for a part of the women prisoner cohort.”

“I want prison governors to get outside companies in to employ prisoners and then let the governors keep the surplus to reinvest.”


Gove 16 March 16 justice committee

[If clicking on the image does not work, click here to watch.]


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