Government’s flagship prison reforms ‘lack clarity’, MPs warn

Liz Truss
Liz Truss
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Major reforms to prisons that empower governors lack clarity and leave it unclear as to how they will work in practice, MPs have said.

A new report by the Justice select committee said the proposals should be welcomed in principle, but warned there was still a great deal of uncertainty about the changes, which came into force this month.

The committee also said the changes could prove ineffective without the support of staff and governors, who felt they had been marginalised over the Government’s reforms.

Moves to give prison governors more autonomy and flexibility come against the backdrop of a crisis across the prisons service, with suicides, self harm and violence all on the rise.

Committee chairman Bob Neill said: “Governor empowerment and changes to prison performance are central to the Government’s prison reform programme, which it describes as the biggest overhaul in a generation.

“But the lack of clarity about how some of these reforms will work in practice remains a cause for concern.”

The report highlights staff protests in November and an attempted strike in March as evidence of discontent among both the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) and the Prison Governors’ Association (PGA). The PGA has said governors should not sign new performance agreements proposed under the changes, while it also told the committee that engagement with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had been “very poor”, with very little consultation about the reforms.

The POA, meanwhile, said their members feel disenfranchised, did not trust the Government and senior managers, and that there had been no positive engagement about the new proposals.

Mr Neill said: “Without support from the people who are operating prisons the reforms are unlikely to be effective.

“The Government must seek productive engagement with prison staff and governors through regular meetings, enabling their concerns and ideas to feed into the implementation of the reforms.”

The report also warns of governors getting conflicting advice from the MoJ and the new probation service, as well as an increase in prisoner complaints if minimum standards are not agreed across the country.