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Prison reforms doomed unless Government takes heed of damning safety report

2 min read

The Government's prison reforms are "doomed to fail" unless it takes heed of a damning select committee report released today, Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer warns.

Today the Justice Select Committee, a cross-party group chaired by Tory MP Sir Bob Neill, publish their report into safety in prison.

It highlights the full extent of the challenge facing Justice Secretary Michael Gove as he prepares to give us more detail about his proposals to reform our crisis-hit prison service.

We know already from the Government’s own figures that staff shortages, overcrowding and a rise in general violence have left many of our jails ungovernable and simply out of control.

Self-harm and suicides are now at record levels and serious assaults on hardworking prison officers have surged.

Use of the prison riot squad has reached unprecedented levels with “Tornado Team” officers deployed almost daily to deal with serious incidents such as hostage situations, fires or even riots.

Legal highs, psychoactive substances and other contraband seems to be smuggled in almost at will.

But despite all this, that almost every indicator in prisons is getting worse and worse, Michael Gove refuses to address the elephant in the room;  the rise in the prison population.

The current prison population sits at 85,381. This is nearly five thousand higher than when David Cameron took office. The rise in prisoner numbers and the reduction in prison officers has led to many members of staff concerned that they simply do not have the time to monitor the increased number of prisoners which increases the risk they face.

The weekend before last prison staff at HMP Wormwood Scrub, a jail consistently rated as one of the worst in the country, walked out citing serious risks of health and safety. Two days after the walkout two officers were hospitalized after an attack by a prisoner.

We simply cannot go on like this. It is time for action and Michael Gove must now bring forward serious and radical proposals in the Queen’s Speech this Wednesday.

Some of what we have heard from Gove is positive. I welcome his pledge to review the situation regarding IPP prisoners.

His proposals to give prison governors more autonomy are also welcome but this report is another reminder that he will achieve nothing if the basics are not right - and the most basic of basics is proper protection for prison officers and prisoners, and reasonable levels of discipline.

That is why until he addresses the issues raised by the Select Committee then his reforms are doomed to fail.

Lord Falconer is the Shadow Justice Secretary

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