Prisons Minister announces package of measures to lift poor conditions in struggling jails

The prisons minister is to launch a £10 million blitz on drugs, mobile phones and poor conditions at struggling jails.

Rory Stewart announced a package of measures designed to lift standards at 10 units which have “acute” problems, saying the project will pave the way for a “new ethos” across the estate in England and Wales.

Each of the prisons will be provided with new scanners capable of spotting packages inside bodies and sniffer dogs trained to detect new psychoactive substances (NPS).

The cash will also be used to carry out repairs to basic infrastructure, such as broken windows.

Mr Stewart (pictured) said: “With more than 20,000 prison officers, 84,000 prisoners and over 100 prisons, it is vital we set challenging standards so prisons are places where offenders can turn their lives around.

“With the right leadership on the ground, and support from the centre, these 10 prisons will pave the way for a new approach, a new ethos and a new direction.

“We need to make these prisons calmer, more orderly places and in the end that comes down to challenging and managing prisoners consistently, firmly and fairly.”

The 10 prisons selected for the programme are Hull, Humber, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, Nottingham, Ranby, Isis and Wormwood Scrubs.

The Ministry of Justice said the jails have struggled with acute problems including high drug use, violence and building issues.

While governors and staff have dealt with the challenges, the project will provide them with the resources and support to make decisive progress, according to the department.

It said geographical clusters of prisons in Yorkshire, the north Midlands and London were chosen to ensure a targeted approach to tackling the supply of drugs from organised crime in the areas.

£6 million has been earmarked to bolster physical security with drug-detection dogs, body-scanners and improved perimeter defences.

There will be a focus on standardising residential areas, with £3 million to improve the fabric of the jails and new standards of decency and cleanliness drawn up.

The third strand of the drive will see £1 million spent on bespoke training programmes and interventions to give governors support to drive improvement.

A staff college model inspired by the military will be developed for governors, while more junior uniformed staff will be given support and confidence to challenge disruptive behaviour.

Officials said the scheme will be up and running in all 10 prisons by the end of the year, with “tangible results” within 12 months.

It is the latest in a string of steps aimed at tackling the safety crisis that has gripped the prisons system in recent years.

Figures published last month showed self-harm incidents and assaults in jails were at record levels, while finds of drugs and mobile phones increased by 23% and 15% respectively in the year to March.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The governors of the 10 prisons will be pleased to have a little more money, wherever it comes from.”

He said Mr Stewart “must concentrate on the job only he can do – matching the demands on the system to the resource Parliament is prepared to make available for it”, adding: “It was a catastrophic failure to provide that balance which caused the collapse of prison safety after 2012 – trying to tell governors how to run prisons is not going to put it right.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the Government should “go much further”, adding: “It must set out an emergency plan across the prisons estate with substantial new funding to put an end to this crisis and make our prisons safe and humane for staff and inmates.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, welcomed the additional funding but warned that “the devil will be in the detail”.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.