Financial incentives will be handed out to top performing bosses who can prove improvements in education and skills for inmates, while inner city facilities will be shut down and charities invited to bid to build new premises.
The raft of new measures were announced by the Prime Minister as he gave a wide-ranging speech in Leeds this morning on how he imagines a new-look smaller state ahead of the Autumn Spending Review.
The announcements – among the most doctrinaire since the General Election - call into question the long term future of city jails such as HMP Leeds in Armley.
Mr Cameron said prison reform was a key way of working more effectively to tackle the deficit and begin a new era for the penal system that has endured such a high level of failure.
He said: “We will look at selling off our inner city prisons, that are old and dark and overcrowded, and building new effective prisons that are not just safe and secure but contain facilities that will lower re-offending rates.”
“At the moment if you are a prison governor you have almost no control over what is taught in your prison, or who teaches it, nor the right financial freedoms to provide meaningful work for the prisoners you are looking after.
“We need to give prison governors that control and we are also looking at how we can incentivise and reward them for delivering the right outcomes.
“Going even further we could also invite bids from those charities and others who wish to work with particular types of offenders.”
This new system, which echoes the Government’s controversial free-school system whereby community groups and charities can bid to run facilities, was described by the Prime Minister as ‘bold’, but vital in reducing re-offending rates.
He wants to give governors more control over what education programmes are delivered and also welcome charities which have particular expertise in working with different types of offenders to come forward to run facilities.
He said: “There can be few areas of Government where we tolerate such a high degree of failure.
“While criminals are in our prisons, the state is responsible for every aspect of their lives; who they see, what they eat, what they learn what they do. Yet, nearly half of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release and for under 18s that figure rises to two-thirds.
“Think about that rate of failure and how much better we can do.
“Who pays the price for this failure, obviously the taxpayer who foots the bill every time but also the poorest in our society who are the main victims of the crime that is subsequently carried out. Nobody who believes in social justice can possibly accept this so I think it is time to be bold.”
During the speech on how to create his so-called ‘smarter state’ held at Leeds ONE, at Leeds City Office Park, he also announced he had appointed Charlie Taylor, former Chief Executive of the National College of Teaching and Leadership, to undertake a review in youth justice.
Mr Cameron[s ‘smarter state’ vision hinges on the three priorities of reform to public services, devolution and efficiency.
He reiterated his aim to break down ‘state monopolies’ by bringing in new providers to run certain Government services and also hopes the opening up contracts to small businesses in the future could spread entrepreneurship and drive forward greater innovation.