Prisons that work


Speech by Rt. Hon Sadiq Khan MP to the IPPR and Prison Reform Trust



Thursday 27th March 2014



It’s a pleasure to be here today, and to see so many friendly faces

I want to thank the Prison Reform Trust and IPPR for hosting today’s speech

Both organisations are invaluable in helping politicians understand the challenges of constructing a justice system that works


Nelson Mandela once said “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails

Over the three and a half years in this job, I’ve visited a lot of jails.

Big ones, small ones, women’s jails, young offender institutions, secure children’s homes and training centres

New ones, Victorian ones

Public, private

Good, failing

I’ve seen the full spectrum

Only now can I appreciate Mandela’s words

And these visits have helped shape my thinking, culminating in today’s speech, “Prisons That Work”


It's an undeniable fact that we live in a society where people do bad things

Sometimes so bad that being sent to prison is the only option.

However prison should be a last resort, reserved for serious, violent and persistent offenders

And it’s an undeniable fact that most of those in jail today won’t be in for ever

90% of those inside will be free a decade from now, having done their time

So when we say we want prisons that work, we know that can’t mean jails that are simply huge warehouses, squashing in ever more prisoners, who are doomed to idle away their days, all too ready to slip back into a life of crime when they’re released

That means more victims, more human misery and a massive waste of talent

And then there’s the cost

According to the National Audit Office, re-offending costs us £13billion a year

That’s almost double the Ministry of Justice’s budget

Tackling re-offending – by making prisons work – would save money and make us all safer as a result

With budgets under pressure, we have to do everything we can do reduce re-offending


During Labour’s 13 years in Government crime fell by 43%

But by the end of our time in office, there were 85,000 people behind bars – 25,000 more than in 1997

I don’t believe there is a simple, perfect correlation between the rise in prison numbers and the fall of crime

It’s far more complicated

Undoubtedly, sending to prison more bad people for longer did help bring down crime rates

But, although they nudged downwards in our final years, we didn’t do enough to bring down rates of re-offending

We laid the groundwork for reductions in re-offending with Bradley, Corston, the Youth Justice Board and the intensive alternative to custody pilots

We recognised that offenders are not one uniform group

There are distinct groups within it, each with differing characteristics, and each requiring a different approach

We started to do the necessary work to address it, particularly in our latter years in Government.  


And for a while, I thought the Tories got it too

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 part and parcel of their hug a hoodie, hug a husky masquerade

That it was just an exercise in spin, to make the nasty party seem less nasty

And to make the voters think they had changed.


Many of you will recall “Prisons with a Purpose”, their 2008 pamphlet

I’ll hold up my hands – there’s plenty in it I agree with

Their calls for small, local prisons

And their focus on rehabilitation and work in prisons

In his foreword, David Cameron described the proposals as “a new generation of prisons and a new model of prison management. It is designed to deliver justice for victims and to ensure that prisoners make restitution to society for their crimes, and leave prison with better skills and prospects than they had when they entered”

Who could disagree?


And this carried on in their early months in Government

Some of you may remember my warm words in the House of Commons when Ken Clarke unveiled his Green Paper Breaking the Cycle in December 2010 – I certainly do


But it unravelled

The Tories reverted to type

Even more so when Ken Clarke was unceremoniously dumped for Chris Grayling – a classic Tory lurch to the right

I’ve not heard the words rehabilitation revolution leave Chris Grayling’s lips

And, as the Chief Inspector picked up in his most recent annual report, there’s no longer any mention of working prisons.

Nick Hardwick said Only a few years ago we heard a lot about ‘working prisons’ and making prisons places of productive activity. More recently there has been a deafening silence on this topic and prisons might be excused if they believe this is no longer a priority”


Let’s go through their record

Remember in opposition Tory criticisms of Titan prisons?

David Cameron declaring “the idea that big is beautiful with prisons is wrong”

I agree – big, supermax style prisons aren’t the answer

We don’t want giant warehouses

Massive stadium-like jails with thousands and thousands of criminals lumped in together

Difficult to control and keep order, let alone doing anything like rehabilitation

But what’s happened now?

Suddenly, they’ve embraced Titan prisons

Wrexham, and maybe Feltham down the line, will get two enormous prisons of over 2,500 prisoners

And let’s not forget about the 400 place, £85million Secure College in the East Midlands – you could call it a teenage Titan.

What a reversal!


They said smaller well performing prisons were their model

But in government they’ve closed them down

At the end of last year, the National Audit Office said the Government had “traded good quality and performance for greater savings. For example, it closed some high-performing prisons before new prisons were performing well”

In February 2013, Chris Grayling held up G4S run Oakwood Prison as his blueprint for the rest of the prison system

Just weeks later a damning inspection revealed drugs easier to obtain than soap

I’ve been to Oakwood Prison

Believe me, it’s a model of how notto run the rest of the prison system!


We were told that they’d put prisoners time to good use on education, training and work

But the reality is it isn’t happening

And to hide their shame they’ve even given up collecting data on the amount of purposeful activity undertaken by prisoners


Things are in a bad shape

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”


And where’s the Government’s focus been during that time?

It’s been on gimmicks

Small, tabloid-friendly announcements that play to the gallery, giving the impression they’re doing something when really they aren’t

Such as banning the sending of books to prisoners

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

We will end the ban on books.

And we will review the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme to make sure it is not undermining efforts at rehabilitation.


The Government’s rehabilitation agenda all but ignores prisons

Instead, the Government have put all their eggs in the basket of privatising probation

But these plans are uncosted, untested and untried, and risk public safety

Private companies with no record of working in this area given responsibility for supervising serious and violent offenders in the community


While, on the other hand, they’ve allowed prisons to become more squalid, overcrowded and violent – miles away from what we need to rehabilitate criminals

It’s almost as if they’ve given up on doing anything meaningful in prisons, in the hope that a brave, new world of privatised probation will iron out the deep creases of those released from jail


Should I have the privilege of being Justice Secretary in 2015, there won’t be a great inheritance

Money will be very tight for some time to come

That’s why Labour has committed to a zero-based spending review

But we’ll also receive a hospital pass in many other ways

Prisons more overcrowded and violent

A looming crunch on prison capacity

High profile projects this Government has committed the next government to fund, including Wrexham and Feltham prisons and the new Secure College

A reckless, half-baked probation privatisation

The challenge will be the greatest for some while, but with very little room for manoeuvre


That’s why I’m determined Labour will work from first principles

We’ll invest to prevent crime in the first place – housing, education, Sure Start

And to stop offenders going on to commit any more offences

Prisons based on collaboration, with public private and voluntary groups all pulling in the same direction to effectively punish and reform offenders

With prisoners contributing back to society, through restorative justice and community payback, reparation for the harm done through their crimes

To deliver on this, we’ll squeeze every last drop out of the taxpayers’ spend

We’ll be clear what we expect of sentencing, what the guilty will do as part of their punishment, and what will be done to stop criminals re-offending

We’ll look again at effective Intensive Alternatives to Custody, not consign them to the waste bin like the current government

We’ll build on the success of diversion – taking the fantastic work of the YJB and, if budgets allow, look to expand its remit to older age groups

Identifying other key groups in the system, such as women

And deliver the National Strategy for Muslims in our prisons – something the current Government has ignored, despite calls for it in 2010 by the Inspectorate


We’ll be clear about what we want our prisons to do

Labour will identify what makes a “good” prison

Because we want our prisons:

  • To recognise they have a role on top of the importance of preventing escapes and disturbances
  • To be incentivised at every level to punish AND reform offenders
  • To reward good performance and have zero tolerance of failure


And our notion of a “good” prison will be underpinned by five key factors:

  • Strong leadership
  • Local partnership
  • A professional workforce
  • Proper accountability
  • Rehabilitation at the core

I want to use the rest of my speech to outline what we’ll do in each of these five areas


George Bernard Shaw said “the most anxious man in a prison is the governor”

We know what he meant!

They sweat about escapes and disturbances and more

On my travels I’ve met good and not so good governors

And one of the characteristics of a good prison has been a governor in place for a decent stretch of time


In my own constituency is Wandsworth Prison

The Governor seems to chop and change more often than Premier League football managers

How can you change the culture in a 160 year old prison if you’re in the post less than a year?


Recently I uncovered data showing 5 prisons have had 4 governors since May 2010

And 24 have had 3 governors

These aren’t the ingredients that make for good governance


We’ll put a stop to this

Prison governors must be appointed for a period long enough to give them time to stamp their mark

And this is implicit when they’re appointed

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

Instead, we’ll invest the time and confidence in them to do it


And I think we should go further

I want improved career structures for those running prisons, with better training in place

Good governors should be encouraged to stay in place, not chopped and changed

Specialisms should be nurtured – those good at running women’s prisons, say, or those whose expertise is in the high security estate

I believe prisons would benefit from these changes


And good governors running good prisons should be rewarded with greater freedom

Underperforming prisons could be incentivised to improve with the prospect of these rewards

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

Well performing prisons, with strong leadership, are the best level for these contracts to be awarded and enforced


But there’s a flipside

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 as Chris Grayling has been

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 with a strict, zero tolerance of bad performance can we hope to root out failing management and truly turn round our prisons


The second key factor is local partnerships

Prisons should be rooted in their local communities – working with local agencies, charities, companies and other arms of government

More power given to good performing prisons to decide with whom they want to work

It shouldn’t be the Justice Secretary from Westminster deciding what is best in each prison

Through the gate support of prisoners is fine, but it should be when prisoners are going through the gate on arrival, not out of the gate on departure

Agencies, charities and companies in prisons from the very beginning of sentences, working to up-skill and train prisoners

Sentence plans that are meaningful and carried through

I am determined to resurrect the concept of a working prison, forgotten by the current government

It’s crucial if we’re to instil a work ethic and give prisoners the skills and confidence they need.


And to back this up I want to explore the idea of 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.


Leadership is also key in prisons

But also crucial is the rest of the workforce

Thousands of dedicated staff at the coalface in our prisons

I pay tribute to their hard work.

But for many it’s become a de-skilled job

When, instead, they could be key players in rehabilitating prisoners

Why do we always talk of bringing in experts to deal with education, training and mental health, when we could be using prison better?

I’m determined to restore the workforce’s morale and learn the best lessons from prison systems in other countries where prison staff are skilled up

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

Accrediting staff, particularly for those with extra responsibilities and competencies

Recognising the professionalism of the workforce

And we’ll consider introducing ‘lead practitioners’ in the crucial areas like anger management, literacy, mental health and drugs


But there’s a quid pro quo

I’ll demand zero tolerance of corruption

Labour will have a whistleblower hotline, independent of the Prisons Service

We’ll publish facts and figures on misconduct allegations – how many, what happened to the investigation and what sanctions were used against those found guilty

And in prisons with a serious problem we need tough sanctions

More searching of staff at the beginning and end of shifts, and even closed family visits

We cannot allow efforts to punish and reform criminals to be undermined by drugs, contraband and mobile phones finding their way into prisons, fuelling a whole world of crime behind bars.

These bad apples damage the reputation of the overwhelming majority of prison staff who are dedicated and law-abiding

It’s in their interests too that we root out the bad apples


Proper accountability is at the heart of what makes a good prison

Bad performance must be rooted out, exposed and those responsible held to account

Lessons learnt from good practice need to be codified, and spread across the rest of the prisons system

At the core is the work of the Chief Inspector of Prisons

I want to pay tribute to the work of Nick Hardwick and his colleagues

It’s only because of their forensic investigative work that some of the horrors that happen in our prisons are uncovered

Such as drugs being more easily obtainable than soap in Oakwood prison

The forgotten inmate in Lincoln prison, 9 years beyond the end of their sentence

Infestations of vermin and cockroaches in Pentonville, a prison the Inspectorate said should be demolished

But he’s also held up good practice too

Like the Daycare Centre run for the over 50s in Leyhill Prison

And the effective Prisoner Council at Ford.


But I have to be honest

I’m exasperated that the rich inspection reports don’t receive the response they deserve

Their findings and recommendations are designed to improve performance

Areas of best practice aren’t shared enough or elephant traps from Prison A avoided at Prison B

I want to correct this terribly wasted opportunity

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

Ministers, prison governors and prison boards might disagree with recommendations, but it’s right they’re made to explain why

Everyone can learn from this process

The public confident inspection reports are taken seriously

And concrete steps taken to rectify poor performance.


And I want to go further

I’m worried that the independence of the Chief Inspector isn’t as secure as it should be

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons should be free of the executive, uninhibited by any undue pressure, if it’s to do its job effectively

The UK is a signatory of the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or punishment – known as OPCAT

To really embrace the aims and aspirations of OPCAT, I want to place the inspectorate on a footing independent of ministers

We will, if we win the next election, look at making the Chief Inspector of Prisons independent

This could be directly accountable to Parliament, similar to the Electoral Commission

Or linked in some way to the Justice Select Committee

We will consult widely with those passionate about this issue

And deliver the change we need to guarantee the Chief Inspector  has the independence and powers he needs to ensure the inspection regime is one in which the public can always be confident


The fifth factor determining a good prison is rehabilitation at its core

We need to have a better handle on what success looks like, something we can measure, so that we can judge good and bad performances

The government opted for a payment by results model without any proper testing or piloting

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

And aggregating up prisoner scores could provide a measure for the whole jail

This would be an added incentive for governors to do more on rehabilitation

And makes the prison system more transparent

I recognise there’s churn within the system, but with the value added measure attached to each prisoner, there must be a way of making this work.

We’ll work with key agencies and stakeholders across the landscape to look at how we can get this to function in practice


I’ve been candid about some of the challenges we’ll face on May 8th 2015

People ask me will I promise to reverse this, or do that.

I’m not going to repeat the Tory mistake of promising what I can't deliver

They said they'd solve the prison problem - but they've made it worse 

They promised control - but they've lost it

A rehabilitation revolution was planned but they've bottled it

So we know they'll leave us a challenge - but we will tread carefully

We'll assess exactly what needs to be done

That’s why I can’t commit to renationalise private prisons

That's why I can't commit to build lots more modern small prisons

And that's why I can’t guarantee we won’t close some prisons

I won't set a target for reducing prison numbers

I can’t promise to deliver everything on terms and conditions that prison staff might want

And I can't say any if it is going to be easy.


But I’ve been around the system, and I know what we can achieve

I can give you the assurance prisons won’t be forgotten under Labour

We won’t be happy with them remaining overcrowded and squalid

We won't settle for failure in public or private prisons

We will strive to turn prisons into engines of work, education and training 

We will work with our staff and train them to deliver what's needed

We’ll do all we can to address drug and alcohol dependencies, and make mental health a high priority

Stopping prisoners going on to commit more crimes has to be central to a Labour, one nation, justice policy

By having prisons that work by putting the emphasis on high quality rehabilitation, we’ll make communities up and down the country safer for everyone.


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