WATCH: Prisons Minister says 'I'll quit if I can't cut jail violence in a year'
Prisons minister Rory Stewart has vowed to resign if a fresh government plan to cut spiralling violence in jails fails to deliver.
The Government unveiled a £10m cash boost for the most troubled jails in England and Wales on Friday morning, promising military-style training for prison officers and tough new security measures to stop drugs from making their way to those behind bars.
The announcement comes against the backdrop of runaway levels of violence and self-harm in prisons, with official figures showing that prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and assauts on prison staff reached record highs in the past year.
Pressed on whether he would quit his job if the pilot scheme fails to cut violence, Mr Stewart told the BBC: "Yes. I will quit if I haven't succeeded in 12 months in reducing the levels of drugs and violence in those prisons.
"I want to make a measurable difference. That's what this investment is around.
"I believe in the prison service, I believe in our prison officers. I believe that this can be turned around and I want you to judge me on those results. And I'll resign if I don't succeed."
The Prisons Minister said jails in England and Wales faced "huge challenges," including the advent of new psychoactive drugs which he warned were "creating very, very aggressive, bizarre behaviour".
But he heaped praise on prison staff, and said he hoped the spike in violence could be addressed.
"We have incredibly dedicated, professional prison officers," Mr Stewart explained.
"And what I've discovered, for example, working with the governor of Leeds over the last two or three months is it's incredible what can be done if you have a very visible governor, if you have the right kind of management team, if you have the right kind of support and training, and that you really focus on a couple of basic things - drugs and cleanliness - you can really begin to make a difference."
Labour has torn into the funding boost, however, accusing ministers of failing to properly fund prisons.
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: "The Conservatives' decision to axe thousands of officers and cut hundreds of millions from prisons budgets created a deep crisis in our prisons.
"The Government needs to go much further and set out an emergency plan across the prisons estate with substantial new funding that puts an end to this crisis and makes our prisons safe and humane."
That view was echoed by Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust charity, who welcomed the extra cash but warned: "It was a catastrophic failure to provide that balance which caused the collapse of prison safety after 2012 - trying to tell governors how to run prisons is not going to put it right."
The new plan to combat drugs and violence will be tried out at ten prisons - Hull, Humber, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, Nottingham, Ranby, Isis and Wormwood Scrubs - with the MoJ promising "tangible results" by this time next year.