Justice Secretary David Gauke under fire over 'failure' to tackle prisons crisis

Posted On: 
27th June 2019

Justice Secretary David Gauke has come under fire from MPs over the Government's “failing” approach to the prisons crisis.

The committee made recommendations to the Government in April 2019

Justice Committee chair Bob Neill criticised the lack of a clear strategy or plan from the Government in a letter to Mr Gauke on Thursday, following on from the body’s report that hit out at prisons policy in April.

The cross-party group warned Mr Gauke that his department’s current approach was “inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable” in the medium and long-term, after an 18-month inquiry.

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Mr Neill said the Government’s response to the findings “contained a rehash of current initiatives that we already knew about”

He added: “From overcrowded, squalid and poorly maintained prisons to inadequate opportunities for rehabilitation, the Government’s crisis management approach to jails has been failing for more than five years.

“Throwing money at such significant problems on an ad hoc basis is both unsustainable and a waste of taxpayers’ money. 

“Our report set out the need for a clear strategy and demonstrated how proper planned investment would reduce reoffending, save money and start to alleviate pressures on jails. 

“So far we have not seen that from Government. It’s response to our report contained a rehash of current initiatives that we already knew about."

“Without a strategy, we do not believe that the serious challenges can be addressed. That’s why my letter to David Gauke presses this matter once again and I hope this time he is able to reassure us with greater detail and clarity.”

The committee found that disruptions such as staff shortages “severely undermined” rehabilitative services in prisons such as education and mental health treatment, and concluded it created “immeasurable wasted costs”.

MPs also flagged that the nature of the prison population was “rapidly changing” and had doubled in size in 25 years, contributing to the “extremely challenging” circumstances.

The report called for measures to improve rehabilitation and for the Government to press ahead with plans to ditch prison sentences of less than six months

In today’s correspondence, Mr Neill pressed Mr Gauke for answers regarding a high turnover of prison staff, rehabilitative programmes and more.

He wrote: “The current crisis in our prison system requires a clear plan of action to deal with the many challenges our prisons are currently facing. The Government's Response to our Report 'Prison Population 2022' does not give the Committee confidence that such a plan exists. 

“As you reflected in your letter dated 24 May 2019, our Report draws out some of the critical challenges the Government needs to overcome to deliver an effective prison service, but the Government's Response repeats a number of initiatives that have already been announced or implemented with little detail on the Government's future plans for the prison system.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Our focus is on rehabilitating offenders in order to reduce crime and keep the public safe, but this can only happen if prisons are safe and decent.

“As we outlined in our response to the JSC’s report, we are developing a long-term strategy to deliver 10,000 new prison places and investing an extra £70 million to ensure our staff can carry out their work safely, including £16 million to improve conditions for prisoners and staff and £7 million on new security measures.

“We know that short prison sentences are often ineffective and are grateful for the Committee’s support as we explore options for robust community alternatives to rehabilitate prisoners. We have noted this letter and will respond in full in due course.”