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News | 17.05.2016

Queen’s Speech: David Cameron to announce biggest shakeup of Britain’s prison system in more than 100 years

David Cameron is set to announce the biggest shakeup of Britain’s prison system in more than 100 years as he lays out a post referendum legislative agenda dominated by social reform.

Under the plan individual prisons will be given unprecedented freedoms to set their own rules, budgets and rehabilitation programmes under a system modelled on academy schools.

Mr Cameron will announce the names of the first wave of the new so-called reform prisons which will include HMP Wandsworth one of Europe’s largest jails.

He will also announce an overhaul of prison education and training in an attempt to cut reoffending rates.

The Prime Minister is hoping that the Queen’s Speech agenda will provide a focal point around which to unite his fractious party in aftermath of the 23 June EU referendum.

It will also include bill to speed up adoption and provide more support to children leaving care as well as a further shake-up of higher education to encourage private companies to set up universities.

Mr Cameron will claim it sets out a “clear programme of social reform, so we break down the barriers to opportunity and extend life chances to all”.

Under the Government’s plans for prisons, governors will give freedom to decide how prison budgets are spent as well and operational freedom over education, the prison regime, family visits, and partnerships to provide prison work and rehabilitation services.

Comparable statistics will be published for each prison on reoffending, employment rates on release, as well as violence and self-harm.

The plan will be rolled out across the prison estate – with six the first six sites being at HMP Holme House, Kirklevington Grange, Coldingley, High Down, Ranby and Wandsworth.

The Government intends to use legislation to extend the freedoms further in the future – enabling prisons to be established as independent legal entities with the power to enter into contracts; generate and retain income; and establish their own boards with external expertise.

It is also announcing that eight police forces have been chosen to pilot the use of satellite tracking that tags that track offenders’ movements using GPS technology.

It is expected that these schemes will pave the way for the roll-out of the equipment across the country, and lead to new options for the management of offenders and the reduction of reoffending.

Announcing the plans Mr Cameron said that Governments had, for too long, ignored prison reform as a political priority.

“We have left our prisons to fester,” he said.

“Not only does that re-inforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up. It writes off thousands of people.

“Today we start the long-overdue, long-needed change that our prisons need. No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed.”

Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, said that it was vital for prisons to do more to rehabilitate offenders.


Queen's Speech: New prison governor powers expected
A bill to give prison governors "unprecedented" new powers will feature in the Queen's Speech later.
Billed as the biggest shake-up of the service since Victorian times, governors of six prisons will get control over budgets and daily regimes.
David Cameron said the changes would "extend life chances for all".
Measures on extremism, driverless cars and unmanned drones are also expected among the 21 bills as the government sets out its legislative agenda.
The Queen's Speech, which is expected shortly after 11:30 BST, is the centrepiece of the State Opening of Parliament, a tradition that can be traced back to 1536.
The government hopes the proposals will be approved over the next 12 months but critics believe the speech is being overshadowed by the upcoming EU referendum.
The Queen's Speech on the BBC
  • A special programme showing the State Opening of Parliament begins on BBC One and the BBC News Channel at 10:30 BST
  • Online, the BBC's politics live page will bring all the news footage and reaction as it happens
Mr Cameron has promised a "clear programme of social reform" in the measures to be announced.
Plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights are expected to be mentioned, but with major detail on the plans yet to come.
Controversial plans to encourage schools to become academies, which were watered down following a Tory backlash, will reportedly feature, along with changes to the care and adoption system.
Writing in the Sunday Times earlier this month, Mr Cameron said the government would legislate to encourage permanent adoption - even if it meant children were not placed with relatives.
By Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent
This morning, for the 65th time of her reign, the Queen will read out the government's proposed new laws.
But as the sovereign's carriage is polished and the roads closed, this moment, so often a pivotal one in the political calendar, is instead an island of respite in an EU referendum campaign tearing the Conservative Party apart.
So for the prime minister, a chance to emphasise that his horizons extend beyond next month's vote. The emphasis: improving the life chances of the least fortunate; plans to improve social care and speed up adoption are expected, as is a shake-up of prisons in England and Wales.
Today, the Conservatives will seek to remind us about the range of ideas that won them last year's election. But it will also remind David Cameron that, with a slender majority, actually turning those ideas into laws won't be easy.
'Overshadowed by EU'
A former leader of the Commons, Lord Lansley, said he believed the speech was being overshadowed by the EU referendum.
He said it was creating "a very large uncertainty" for the parliamentary programme.
"If there were a Brexit vote, not immediately but certainly in the latter part of the parliament, we would be completely absorbed with trying to manage the legislative consequences of that which would be monstrous to think about," he said.Preparations have been taking place for the State Opening of Parliament in London
In the bill to be announced later, the governors of six jails will be given control over budgets, decide which rehabilitation and education services to use and be able to change the prison regime and the rules over family visits.
The prisons will be able to enter into contracts and to generate and retain income, the government said, adding that governors would be held accountable by "a new regime of transparency".
By the end of the year, 5,000 prisoners will be held in the first six "autonomous" prisons, which will be:
  • Wandsworth in south London
  • Holme House, Stockton-on-Tees
  • Ranby, Nottinghamshire
  • Coldingley, Woking
  • Kirklevington Grange, Cleveland
  • High Down, Sutton
Inspectors have warned that Ranby prison is at risk of being overwhelmed by the supply of so-called legal highs, and last month a prisoner was murdered at Coldingley.
The PM first outlined plans to give prison governors "complete control" over their prisons in February, saying it would reduce reoffending and allow prisoners to be treated as "potential assets to be harnessed".
At the time, the Prison Reform Trust said the measures were "only part of the equation", while the Howard League for Penal Reform said measures were needed to tackle the "profligate use of prison".
Mr Cameron said: "For too long, we have left our prisons to fester.
"Not only does that reinforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up. It writes off thousands of people.
"So today, we start the long overdue, long-needed change that our prisons need. No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed."
The government will also publish a review of education in prisons and announce pilot areas chosen for satellite tracking of offenders.
In February a contract to develop the system was cancelled after the government had already spent £21m on the project.
Skype, iPads and in-cell education at heart of major prisons shakeup
Prisons education review to be published alongside Queen’s speech that is designed to improve life chances of most disadvantaged in UK
Prisoners should be able to use iPads in their cells and stay in touch with friends and family via Skype, a major study commissioned by the justice secretary, Michael Gove, is expected to conclude.
The review into prison education by Dame Sally Coates advocates the increased use of “in-cell technology, such as iPads, so prisoners can learn independently”, according to extracts from a draft of the report seen by the Guardian.
The findings will be published alongside the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, which will include legislation that ministers say represents the biggest shakeup in prisons since Victorian times.
The prisons bill will pave the way for satellite tracking that will allow some offenders to spend just weekends in jail, introduce league tables on reoffending, employment rates, violence and self harm, and give the governors at six major prisons unprecedented freedoms. Prisons will be able to determine how their budgets are spent and opt out of national contracts.
The legislation will be a centrepiece of the government’s Queen’s speech, which David Cameron wants to be centred around improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged individuals in the country.
It will come alongside a children and social work bill, designed to improve the opportunities for those in care, a universities bill, which aims to boost the chances of students from minority backgrounds, and a local growth and jobs bill.
The government is also expected to push ahead with controversial plans to tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British bill of rights, in a move that is likely to face fierce resistance. There will also be a digital economy bill.
But the prime minister is hoping to focus on the life-chances legislation, which follows a series of speeches aimed at building a legacy that goes beyond the government’s austerity drive.
A life-chances strategy, which will focus on supporting children during the early years and improving parenting, is also due to be published in the summer, later than originally planned.
Cameron said his government was preparing to present a “One Nation Queen’s speech from a One Nation government”.
“For too long, we have left our prisons to fester. Not only does that reinforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up. It writes off thousands of people,” he said.
Gove said: “Prisons must do more to rehabilitate offenders. We will put governors in charge, giving them the autonomy they need to run prisons in the way they think best.
“By trusting governors to get on with the job, we can make sure prisons are places of education, work and purposeful activity. These reforms will reduce reoffending, cut crime and improve public safety.”
A Conservative source claimed that none of the reforms should be seen as “soft on crime”, pointing out that the vast majority of prisoners end up back on the streets, so rehabilitation is critical.
As well as promising massive freedoms for prisons, starting with sites in the east Midlands, the north-east and London, including HMP Wandsworth, the government will welcome the findings of Coates into how to improve education inside prisons.
She will call for a Teach First-style programme in prisons but will also criticise blanket security practices that effectively ban internet use in jails. She will also recommend trialling the use of technology such as Skype to communicate with loved ones face to face, claiming: “Keeping in touch with friends and family is a key factor in maintaining an individual’s wellbeing and has been shown to reduce reoffending.”
Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, said he welcomed the far-reaching review “and particularly [Coates’s] call for a commonsense approach to the use of technology in prisons”.
Clark added: “For too long, jails in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with prisoners struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”
It comes as a coalition of 136 organisations, including the human rights groups Liberty and Amnesty, law firms, unions, charities and the families of terrorism victims, unite to oppose the plans for a British bill of rights.
Although ministers have indicated that the move will not require Britain to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, campaigners still believe it will significantly reduce protections.
Bella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: “These diverse organisations speak as one in defending the Human Rights Act. They join all the devolved administrations, all major opposition parties, Conservative rebels, anti-apartheid activists and thousands of ordinary people in opposing divisive and discriminatory plans to replace human rights with government-sanctioned privileges. There is a long struggle ahead, but as the chorus of condemnation grows, how much longer can the government refuse to listen?”
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK director, said: “Hillsborough shows how vital the Human Rights Act is to ordinary people when all other avenues of justice fail. We mustn’t let politicians tear up those hard-won protections. Walking away from the Human Rights Act would also threaten to bring down the crucial peace agreement in Northern Ireland. The government should leave the Human Rights Act alone – it’s ours, it’s working, it’s needed.”

What to expect from the Queen's Speech 
David Cameron will use the Queen's Speech today to push ahead with a British Bill of Rights in a bid to assert the "supremacy" of UK courts in the run up to the EU referendum. 
The Government will today announce a consultation to be held after June's EU referendum aimed at giving British judges the final say on cases involving human rights. 
It will recommend that Britain should remain a member of the European Convention of Human Rights in a move which is expected to provoke a split at the top of the Conservative government. 
The Prime Minister will put plans to curb Islamist extremism at the heart of the Queen's Speech, including measures to ban organisations, gag individuals and close down premises that "promote hatred".
For the first time, sweeping new laws will ban hate speakers from working with children and other vulnerable groups, in the same way that paedophiles are vetted to stop them being given jobs in schools.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is also expected to launch an independent review of how Sharia courts are operating in Britain.
As part of the government's prison reform agenda, Mr Cameron will set out a legal framework for stronger governors and powers for “reform prisons” to take over nearby failing jails. 
He is expected to reveal that prisoners will be able to serve "weekend jail" sentences under plans to to fit them with satellite tags which will monitor their movements at every minute of the day.
The first six semi-autonomous "reform prisons" will be announced as the Queen sets out the Government's parliamentary agenda for the next 12 months.
One of Europe's biggest jails, HMP Wandsworth, is among the half dozen institutions where governors will be given sweeping new powers over all key areas of management. 
The Queen's Speech will also see the Government announce plans to give motorists who kill people similar sentences to murderers amid concerns they are getting off too lightly.
At present the maximum sentence for dangerous drivers who kill people is 14 years, and on average most people are only sentenced to four years in jail. The maximum sentence for homicide is life.
New rules will pave the way for Britain to become a world leader in the development of driverless cars on the roads; promoting the growth of unmanned civilian drone aircraft; and building a British “space port” to launch satellites and passenger “space planes”.
Radical changes to the care system are also expected to be unveiled, including new laws to encourage adoption.
A fresh attempt to limit the power of the House of Lords is set to be announced in the wake of the Strathclyde review, which recommended that peers should lose their powers of veto.