Prisons not given ‘sufficient attention’ by Government, says former minister
3 min read
The Government is not treating prisons with the gravity needed to “get a grip” on the problems they face, a Conservative former minister has declared.
Edward Garnier’s comments follow an attack by prison bosses on the Government for failing to address the “toxic” state of jails in England and Wales.
Recent rioting at the Mount prison in Hertfordshire, alongside a rise in suicides, assaults and self-harm among prisoners sparked rare calls from the Prison Governors Association to demand action on the “crisis”.
The former solicitor-general said ministers must get a grip on the “enemy” of overcrowding as a priority, while changing the public perception that prisons are being treated as a “low order” problem.
Furthermore, he hit out at the frequent changes to the holder of the Justice Secretary post, adding that “some weren’t suitable for the job”.
Mr Garnier suggested the management of prisons was not treated with the same importance as other justice issues, specifically calling for greater guidance and “day-to-day interest” from the Justice Secretary and Prime Minister.
“The Prisons Minister needs to be of sufficient seniority to be taken account of, and the current one, Sam Gyimah, is an excellent minister, a very good and kind man, but his political rank is not sufficiently high for the Government machine to pay sufficient attention to him,” he told the BBC's World at One.
“Secondly, the Secretary of State for Justice must take a day-to-day interest in the strategy behind prisons policy and thirdly, the Prime Minister, and I’m not making a criticism of Mrs May… must lead her Government in such a way that prisons policy is given sufficient attention.
“If it isn’t then it’s not surprising that the public and other politicians see prisons as a low order priority, public policy question.”
His comments follow criticism from PGA chair Andrea Albutt, who said she had “seen nothing” of new Justice Secretary David Lidington despite recent events, while a meeting with Mr Gyimah was not expected until October.
Mr Garnier stressed that “woeful” overcrowding was the primary issue to be tackled if the Government was to have any hope of reducing the chaos in jails.
“Until this government or any future government breaks the back of overcrowding we’re going to have this constant revolving door problem of disturbance in prisons, in dissatisfaction amongst governors and prison officers, dissatisfaction for those who are living in the prisons and an unsatisfactory result for the public at large,” he said.
He added: “Overcrowding is the real enemy of progress and reform of good working and living conditions in our prison systems and until we address that, we either send fewer people to prison – which I would prefer – or we build more prisons to lessen overcrowding. This is a perennial problem.”
The former minister also hit out at the “instability” which results from having both prisoners and prison officers “shunted around the system”.
Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill earlier said there was a gulf in communication between prison bosses and frontline officers.
“There’s also the need, I think, to have a much clearer focus as to what the purpose of prison is,” he added on Radio 4's Today programme.
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