IN fairness to Justice Secretary Liz Truss, the shortage of prison officers – and its consequences – was becoming apparent before her unexpected promotion when Theresa May came to power.
By announcing plans to hire an extra 2,500 officers to counter a rising tide of violence in Her Majesty’s prisons, Ms Truss is effectively saying that the staffing cuts presided over by her predecessors Kenneth Clarke and Michael Gove were erroneous.
However this is not just a numbers game. It is about punishment and rehabilitation, and it is significant that the Justice Secretary wishes to empower prison governors and give them more freedom to implement policies that best suit their regimes. She’s right to do so. Unless the cycle of reoffending is stopped, the same ‘hard core’ of criminals will remain responsible for around 90 per cent of offences that are committed in this country and which cost the economy an estimated £15bn a year.
Of course reform requires the Government to accelerate the modernisation of those Victorian prisons which are not fit for purpose, but there needs to be a far greater emphasis on making sure inmates learn life skills, like literacy, that might enhance their employability when they are released back into civil society.
The problem we have, though, is space is at such a premium that offenders are being released before they have a chance to tackle addictions, like drugs, while improving their education. If this is how prisons, and their effectiveness, are to be judged in future, it is a positive step – provided Ms Truss ensures that the necessary resources are available.