Nacro statement on prison reform

Published:

Nacro wholeheartedly welcomes the announcement of prison reform, says Nacro’s Chief Executive, Jacob Tas. Inspection report after inspection report tell us that the system isn’t working. Despite the hard work of many people working in custody, they are rarely places of rehabilitation and can be defined by inactivity and hopelessness.
The changes announced are welcome. Autonomy could bring better accountability and more effective local engagement to make prisons better connected to the community outside the prison walls. Governors should be able to manage budgets and shape the prison regime so it makes sense and allows time for purposeful activity. The piloting of satellite scanning could open up the opportunity to address overcrowding and provide tangible opportunities to help people move on after release.

However, whilst the change in direction is positive, the landscape for implementing change is challenging. Reforming the prison system will not be easy.

In order to truly change the system we have to ask hard and searching questions. We know that incarceration in prisons makes it more likely that an individual will offend, yet at the moment we have over 85,000 people in the prison system. Too many prisons respond to overcrowding by introducing lock down and limiting access to positive interventions such as education or health and recovery programmes. Too many prisons have reported escalations in violence and contraband. Too many people continue to leave custody without appropriate housing. And too many interventions in prison fail to connect and offer tangible support and opportunities for people when they leave.

The reality is that in order to introduce a reforming prison agenda, system change isn’t just needed in prison. It is required in communities. And this is the fundamental challenge facing the government. Prisoners often have multiple and complex problems, and too many revolve in and out of custody throughout their adult life.

Offenders are individuals. They all have different problems, outlooks and backgrounds. They all have their own reasons and routes in to and out of offending and they will have different problems to overcome.

To have any impact, a governor will need to have a person centred approach to custody. This requires a different culture and changed priorities. And it will require governors to work with those providing vital services in the community. Autonomy must connect and not disconnect services from the outside in. There is no point commissioning a health or education service in prison that is disconnected from services available in the community.

Despite these challenges the government deserve real credit for acknowledging the scale of the problem in our prisons and that fundamental change needs to happen urgently.

Real reform needs to address overcrowding and an ageing estate. It needs to connect prison to the community, restoring relationships between offenders and the places that they live in, so that, on release, prisoners can be better prepared to manage problems, reconnect with family, work and the support needed to move on from crime for good. The voluntary sector has an important role to play here. We can and should be at the forefront in helping shape the system and bring about positive change. We look forward to working with government to deliver tangible change and take the vital steps needed to reduce crime.