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Following George Osborne’s announcements in the Spending Review only a matter of days ago, we explore just how much of an impact the major ‘efficiency savings’ and reforms to the prison system are likely to have. 

Nine new prisons

With a plan to reduce prison running costs by £80m a year, old Victorian inner-city prisons will be closed down and sold off to build 3,000 new homes. The resulting funds will be used to build nine new prisons to replace with video conferencing facilities that will allow up to 90,000 cases to be heard from prisons rather than from courts. 

The technological overhaul of prisons doesn’t stop there either. A significant investment plan in prisons will see mobile phone blocking technology and the introduction of body scanners. 

Aiming for more rehabilitative environments

Crucially, the government claims that the reforms will ‘reduce reoffending through more effective rehabilitation’ and stop organised crime in prison with around 10,000 prison places moving from outdated sites to the new prisons. 

The government’s plan is for the new prison estate to be more modern and rehabilitative and that five of the new prisons will be open before the end of the current parliament. The prison at Wrexham will also be completed and Stocken and Rye Hill expanded. 

Currently, over half of prisoners go on to reoffend within a year of being released and it is hoped that in Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s words “designing out the dark corners which too often facilitate violence and drug-taking” will help build a prison estate that facilitates rehabilitation. 

The plans, the Ministry of Justice has said, will build on the probation reforms under Transforming Rehabilitation, extending probation support to 45,000 short-sentence offenders, to tackle reoffending.

Designing out crime

But can we really ‘design out crime’? Those we recruit who work within prisons and the probation officers we place will have their own views, although there’s a general consensus that the old Victorian prisons are not conducive for rehabilitating offenders. 

George Osborne’s announcement that Holloway women’s prison would close by Summer 2016 so that women prisoners “serve their sentences in more humane conditions”, received the loudest applause of his speech. 

For women offenders in London, Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS) is now in a position to effectively ‘house’ them at the more modern facilities at HMP Bronzefield. Meanwhile, the newly refurbished facilities at HMP Downview are set to open later in 2016. The idea is that sentenced women will be detained in an environment that is more appropriate than Holloway, providing a better setting for children visiting their mothers. 

The prison’s closure has been welcomed by prison reform campaigners, although the Prison Reform Trust has said that the money saved must be used to rehabilitate female offenders with Director Juliet Lyon saying: 

“Selling off Holloway for social housing is the clearest message to the courts that prison is not the place to dump vulnerable women who have committed petty, non-violent offences and who have so often been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse themselves. The money raised must be invested in effective community sentences and women’s centres.”

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