On 03 November, the Ministry of Justice issued a white paper[1] on prison safety and reform. The paper is a summary of proposals setting out what the Ministry of Justice is doing to make prisons safer, and outlines a £1.3 billion investment in new prisons over the next five years, and plans for 2,500 extra officers, drug tests, and more autonomy for governors.

The paper’s proposals relate primarily to England and Wales, as prisons are a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Overall, the paper has two main focus areas: firstly, the shorter-term aims of the restoration of stability to prisons through improved security and the recruitment of more staff, and secondly, the longer-term aims of increasing the autonomy and empowering prison governors – whilst also holding them to account.

A number of pressing security challenges are identified, including the need to:

  1. Reduce the number of mobile phones in prison;
  2. Counter the use of drones to smuggle contraband;
  3. Simplify the framework for testing for psychoactive substances;
  4. Strengthen search capability to prevent contraband entering prison;
  5. Strengthen search capability to uncover smuggled items;
  6. Counter the supply and demand for drugs;
  7. Strengthen the response to the risk of radicalisation.

The key points of the paper are:

  • 2,500 new prison staff;
  • Greater prison governor autonomy;
  • Planning permission applications for new prisons at Wellingborough and Glen Parva;
  • Five new community prisons to house women ahead of release;
  • Confirmation of existing plans to provide up to 10,000 new adult places and close old jails;
  • Testing for drug use on entry and exit from prison;
  • No-fly zones over prisons to stop drones dropping off drugs and contraband;
  • New staff will include 40 high-achieving graduates and former armed forces personnel;
  • Prison officers to act “not just a security guards and minders but also as mentors”;
  • Every prisoner to have a dedicated officer;
  • New performance measures for every prison with annual league tables.

In more detail, among its measures, the whitepaper supports:

  • A £3 million investment to enhance prison intelligence capability by recruiting an extra 50 intelligence staff in early 2017. This new function will work with relevant bodies and agencies, and develop specialist intelligence capabilities to ensure information exploitation; particularly leveraging large scale data analysis in addition to building our ability to securely receive and develop the most sensitive intelligence.
  • £1.3 billion to be invested in new facilities to provide up to 10,000 new adult prison places and to build and open five new community prisons for women.
  • Additional investment in a number of dedicated Serious and Organised Crime and Gangs teams across the country and a new joint unit will be created with the Home Office to tackle radicalisation and extremism.
  • Procurement is already underway for mobile phone detection technologies and scanning devices for baggage, parcels, and people to detect metal and drugs.
  • Search capability will be uplifted to increase capacity across the whole estate; a better national resource could include more search dogs and handlers, working alongside an enhanced intelligence analysis capability to assist in more effective, targeted searching.
  • A programme of work has been commissioned with other government departments to review counter-drone options leading to trials of detection equipment which will assess products from several dozen companies. This will be followed up with specific prison pilots and supported by work across government and with the manufactures to look at technological and legislative means to reduce the threat.
  • Following a pilot of body worn video (BWV) devices in 2015–2016, funding has been made available for the roll-out of the cameras across the estate (Also see here for more on the updated Government Guidance on police procurement of BWV devices).
  • An increase the number of prison officers by 2,500 by the end of 2018; to meet frontline resource gaps a targeted campaign will be developed to recruit from the armed forces and recent graduates in addition to a new apprenticeship scheme.
  • A new commissioning cycle will be introduced from April 2017 to reflect the changes resulting from empowering governors.
  • The reforms will enshrine in law for the first time what prisons should be delivering, and hold the Secretary of State to account for ensuring they do so; other parts of the criminal justice system, such as Police and Crime Commissioners, will similarly be able to hold prisons to account and work with them to improve results.
  • Governors in all prisons will be given more powers and more responsibility for running their prisons, including increased direct budgetary control. This is linked to a review of national contracts as they come to an end, to assess whether responsibility should be devolved to governors or (where to continue with a national approach) intelligence and search functions will be lead locally by governors while supported by the a tiered regional and national infrastructure.
  • A new set of criteria will be developed that allows governors to determine what works best to reform offenders and that measures their success.
  • An increase in prisoner education/learning and drug rehabilitation courses.

With rates of violence in jails continuing to rise, with assaults on prison officers in English and Welsh jails reaching almost 6,000 incidents a year, the timing of the white paper is fitting.

[1] White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. White papers are often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. This provides a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament.