Labour to put work at the heart of prisons

The next Labour Government will put work at the heart of our prisons system, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan will say today.

In a keynote speech on the Party’s prisons policy, Khan will argue that reforming criminals and reducing reoffending will only be successful if prisoners' time behind bars is put to good use on work, education and training.

The best performing jails will be rewarded with more day-to-day freedoms over their budgets while there will be zero tolerance of the poorest performers.

Khan will also argue that the problem is more pressing than ever because of the way prisons have gone backwards over recent years.

He will say that all the Tory talk of a “rehabilitation revolution” and work in prisons has come to nothing, with jails more overcrowded, understaffed and dangerous on their watch.

He will round on the Tories, attacking David Cameron's talk of a "rehabilitation revolution” as nothing but a "big, cynical stunt in the same mould as 'hug a hoodie' and 'hug a husky'”.

Khan will say that the Tories have "given up the ghost" on making any meaningful progress on stopping reoffending – instead stuffing as many prisoners into jails as possible, with a few announcements designed to play to the gallery like banning sending books to prisoners. This will do little or nothing to reduce reoffending, he will argue.
In the speech hosted by IPPR and the Prison Reform Trust in Central London, Khan will outline Labour’s alternative plans for the prisons system in England and Wales.

Labour will instil a laser-like focus on work, education and training – with rehabilitation of offenders a top priority.
Good performance will be rewarded with greater freedoms, but there will also be zero tolerance of failing jails.
The progress prisons and prisoners make in education, training and work will be used to see which jails are best at rehabilitating offenders. Included in this will be a measure of what prisoners have done by way of reparations to society and to their victims.

Khan will commit Labour to:


  • Reforming the culture of our prisons with rehabilitation to begin on arrival, not on departure
  • Radical changes that will drive up performance in our prisons and tackle underperformance, with failing prisons placed on strict turnaround programmes and high-performing prisons given more responsibility over budgets and the commissioning of education, training and healthcare
  • Holding prisons to account for whether or not education, training, skills and health have improved for those inside and the extent to which prisoners have been forced to face up to the consequences of their actions, for example, through restorative justice or community payback.
  • Transform governance by establishing Prison Boards, firmly rooting jails in their local communities. Boards could be comprised of representatives from the probation service, police, local authorities, the NHS, charities, employers and employees.
  • Ending the merry go round of governors chopping and changing every 12 months, by keeping governors in the job longer to give prisons more stability, and incentivising them to focus on rehabilitating prisoners
  • Significantly boosting the inspection regime by making Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons truly independent of government
  • Ministers held accountable for failures by forcing them to publish action plans outlining government and prison response to inspection reports.
  • Working with the unions and prison service to raise professional standards across the workforce, including through the establishment of a Chartered Institute for Prison Service Personnel
  • Clampdown on corruption amongst prison staff to prevent drugs and contraband getting into jails.
  • Ending the ban on sending books to prisoners and a review of the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme to make sure it isn’t obstructing attempts to rehabilitate prisoners. 

Extracts from the Speech

On criticisms of the Tories:

“Like many, I was sympathetic to their talk of a rehabilitation revolution. But now I realise it was nothing more than a sham. That it was all a big, cynical stunt in the same mould as 'hug a hoodie' and 'hug a husky'. But it was just an exercise in spin, to make the nasty party seem less nasty”

On the current state of the prisons system:
“Overcrowding is up. Prisons are regularly locked out. 608 incidents of police cells used for prisoners over a recent four month period. Last Friday, just 568 places left in the whole system. Riot Squad called out 72% more times than in 2010. Deaths in custody highest for a decade with four people a week dying in 2013. A string of shocking prison inspection reports – Winchester, Oakwood, Pentonville, Brixton, Bristol, Thameside, Risley. Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, warning last October that “the cracks are beginning to show”.

On the books in prison fiasco:
“A policy so plainly ridiculous it has come in for huge criticism from leading authors as well as from some of Grayling’s own MPs! Under a Labour government ministers won’t put obstacles in the way of prisoners reading books. And we will review the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme to make sure it is not undermining efforts at rehabilitation. We will end the ban on books.”

On improving prison governance:
“Prison governors must be appointed for a period long enough to give them time to stamp their mark. They’ll then know the task ahead of them, and the time they’ve got to deliver improvements. We wouldn’t give a head teacher less than a year to run a school. The same should apply to governors running prisons. We wouldn’t tolerate a school having four head teachers in four years. The same should apply to governors running prisons”.

On more freedoms for well performing prisons:
“Inspected prisons that are performing well should have more control over budgets. It should be up to them who they contract to deliver education, training and healthcare in prisons. The current process of outsourcing education, training and healthcare isn’t working. Time and again on prison visits my questions about who’s enforcing the contracts are received by shrugs of shoulders. It’s not good enough that taxpayers’ money is used so inefficiently”.

On clamping down on bad prisons:
“Prisons must be on notice that failure won’t be tolerated, in both public AND private prisons. I’ve already said I wouldn’t have been so complacent with Oakwood Prison. I’d haul in the management, and give G4S six months to show signs of improvement otherwise I’d strip them of the prison. I’d do the same to a publicly run prison too – I’d demand improvement, or there’d be change at the top. Only by a strict, zero tolerance of bad performance can we hope to root out failing management and truly turn round our prisons.”

On setting up prison boards:
“Each prison governor backed up by key figures from the local area. Local authorities, probation, police, health, education, charities, local employers, and prison staff. All having a shared interest in prisons successfully punishing and reforming prisoners. Rooting prisons in their local community and bringing in outside expertise. It’s good enough for schools, hospitals and colleges. Why not prisons? And who knows, good performing prisons could see their boards awarded more powers. Such as allowing them to appoint and advertise for governors, like school governors would do for head teachers”

On investing in the workforce:
“I’ll sit down with the unions and the prisons service to see how we can raise workforce standards. And I’m keen to explore the idea suggested to me of a Chartered Institute for Prison Officers”

On a tough, independent inspection regime and better accountability:
“I’ll place a statutory duty on the Ministry of Justice to respond publicly and transparently to reports of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons. With each recommendation addressed, and a published action plan for how the prison plans to respond. We will, if we win the next election, look at making the Chief Inspector of Prisons independent”.

On incentivising rehabilitation of offenders:
“I’m convinced we can build a value added measure for prisons – just as we can for school age children. How much has a prison done to help a particular offender address their addictions, their mental health problems, their literacy and numeracy and their skills, and face up to their crime? With a baseline on arrival in prison, we should be able to keep track of progress”


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