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Fresh protocols designed to take prison safety onto a new level have been announced by Justice Secretary David Lidington.

Under the new guidelines, prisons deemed to require urgent attention will have 28 days to introduce tough measures that will drive improvement.

Prompt identification of serious failings

A key aspect of the process sees the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIP), for the first time, able to directly alert the Justice Secretary where serious and severe failings are found in establishments. The Justice Secretary will then publish his response and a plan of action within 28 days of the report being received.

The Ministry of Justice says the urgent notification process is part of a package aimed at improving the safety of people in prisons with the facility required to promptly identify issues that need addressing and ensure that recommendations are acted upon immediately.

Specialist team to deliver immediate action

The changes will also see the creation of a team of specialists – accountable to Ministers - that will be brought together to ensure immediate action is taken, along with a more in-depth plan to ensure sustained improvement for the prison in the long term. The team will have 28 days to set out what steps the prison and department are taking to improve safety and bring the prison up to the required standard. This will require action at all levels of the prison service, from senior management to people in Offender Health jobs, probation jobs and youth offending jobs.

Mr Lidington said: “Openness and transparency are powerful instruments of change and I believe we should be accountable so the public can see exactly what we are doing to turn prisons into safe places where offenders can change their lives. A team of specialists will now respond when HMIP trigger Urgent Notification to urgently drive improvements and ensure that prisons are safe, secure and providing a regular regime.”

Transparent and accountable

The process is part of broader work to enhance responses to external scrutiny that will also see the recruitment of an additional 2,500 prison officers. The MoJ says it is already halfway towards reaching that target.

In welcoming the new urgent notification protocol HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, explained it will be a significant part of the HMIP’s work in inspecting the treatment and conditions for prisoners and other detainees held in custody.

“In particular, I welcome the principle of transparency and accountability underlying this new protocol,” he said. “The Secretary of State has accepted that he and his successors will be held publicly accountable for delivering an urgent, robust and effective response when HMIP assesses that treatment or conditions in a jail raise such significant concerns that urgent action is required.”
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