Dominic Raab is the Secretary of State for Justice, and is MP for Esher & Walton.
This week, I have travelled to Leicestershire to see our newest prison at Glen Parva in the final stages of its construction – the latest in our prison-building programme, and the largest in more than a century. At last week’s Budget, the Government allocated £3.5 billion over the next three years to create 18,000 additional, modern prison places, with a further £250 million to fund up to 2,000 new temporary places.
We need the extra cells to keep those who pose a danger to the public off our streets. We are reinforcing our sentencing legislation, with a new Bill passing through Parliament now, which will end the automatic release of violent and sexual offenders half-way through their sentence. So the extra prison places are needed to protect the public.
With the innovative design of our new build prisons, we can harness the latest technology to make prisons safer, as part of a £100 million investment in prison security. At the prison gates, metal detecting arches, wands and drug-detecting dogs form the first line of defence. But we’re constantly upping our game. Deployment of 74 X-ray body scanners delivered striking results, catching over 10,000 illicit items, including drugs, weapons and mobile phones since last summer alone.
By creating a safer and more stable environment, prisoners are more likely to focus on reform and prison officers can spend more of their time doing the vital rehabilitative work to help turn offenders’ lives around. Success in rehabilitating offenders is the only sustainable way to cut crime. We know that 80 percent of convicted crime is committed by people who have already had brushes with the law, and the vast majority of offenders will end up being released at some point.
To drive down reoffending, four things matter more than anything else.
First, getting offenders to face up to and beat their addiction to drugs or alcohol. We have invested £80 million to boost the number of rehab places for prison leavers with substance misuse problems, as well as diverting offenders into tough and effective community sentences with specific drug and alcohol treatment requirements.
Second, we’re driving changes to give offenders the skills they need to go straight – ranging from training thousands of prisoners to ‘peer mentor’ those who are struggling to read, through to providing training opportunities, for example, with hospitality providers such as Clinks and Redemption Roastery – the world’s first prison-based coffee producer. We know offenders who take part in these programmes are significantly less likely to reoffend.
Third, in January, we announced a £70 million package of measures to reduce reoffending, including £20 million to keep up to 3,000 prison leavers off the streets by providing temporary accommodation while permanent housing is found. Maintaining family ties and providing a stable place for ex-inmates to live on release helps provide the best conditions for keeping offenders on the straight and narrow.
Finally, following last month’s Prisoner Employment Summit, we’re expanding the opportunities to get inmates and offenders on licence into work – to help plug staff shortages, and to help offenders lead a more productive life. I spoke to inmates at HMP High Down working in the prison’s marketing call centre, who explained what a difference it has made to them to get into a more normal routine in a workplace environment, and to earn some money. One prisoner told me how it had allowed him to buy his children some school shoes, giving him hope of better providing for his family in the future and a sense of pride he had not felt in a long time.
Likewise, at HMP Ford, a Category D prison in West Sussex, I met a prisoner nearing the end of his prison sentence working on temporary release driving HGVs. He was grateful for the opportunity to pay off his debts and start paying his taxes.
Yet, in terms of scale, currently just one in seven offenders are employed on release. We need much greater ambition, so I want to see a quantum leap in the number of offenders in work. So, with the appropriate vetting and security checks, I will give governors more resource and more autonomy, to drive up levels of employment among inmates and prison leavers – because we know it reduces reoffending.
Protecting the public from the most serious and dangerous offenders is my priority. To deliver that, we need a secure and modern prison regime which facilitates rehabilitation and creates opportunities for those prisoners who are serious about taking a second chance to turn their lives around.
That is the Conservative vision for our prison estate. With the dedication of our prison and probation staff, and the unprecedented funding announced last week, we can build back better, with lower crime and safer neighbourhoods.