The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has major plans for the reformation of UK prisons in the hope of saving money. Yet this is a hotly contested topic with many fears for the wellbeing of prison workers and prisoners being expressed.
‘Reforming the way we work’
Michael Spurr, the Chief Executive of NOMS, has suggested that the savings can be made without detriment to the performance and quality of UK prisons. The drastic measures to be undertaken include the closure of 15 prisons by 2015/16 according to reports from The Guardian, which is forecasted to save £423 million alone.
The programme is intended to reduce the expense of detention by £2,200 per prisoner per year. Spurr assures that ‘these savings are being achieved not by simply cutting services or reducing quality but by fundamentally reforming the way we work.’ Prison auditors have also suggested that there is no need for concern as the savings are down to exploiting economies of scale rather than depriving individual prisoners of services.
Despite these promises of maintaining the current standard of prisons, Ministry of Justice data has highlighted that 64% of existing prisons are already overcrowded. One can only deduce that a decrease the number of prisons will increase overcrowding at the ones being maintained.
The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling comments on the matter, stating ‘we will continue to drive down running costs by replacing old prison accommodation with new places that are better value for money and provide better opportunities to reduce reoffending.’
Value for money?
Despite the fact that the provision of ‘better opportunities’ and increasing the size of prisons are not being perceived to be antithetical by Grayling, The Prison Reform Trust states that there is ‘evidence published … based on data provided by HM Prisons Inspectorate, showing that smaller prisons tend to be safer and more effective than larger establishments, holding people closer to home and with a higher ratio of prison staff to prisoners.”
Grayling does express that ‘running prisons that are safe, decent and secure is a priority’, although Labour MP Margaret Hodge fears prisoner rehabilitation will suffer in the face of staff reductions. She stated, ‘there is a risk that reduced (staff) numbers will result in staff being taken off offender management programmes to cover duty on prison wings … this means that training and rehabilitation activities could suffer, even though we know these reduce reoffending after release.’
Sharing Margaret’s concern is the shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, who too fears rehabilitation will be compromised by the programme.
‘Cancelling prison building plans, closing down prisons and doubling up prisoners means their chance of rehabilitation is almost zero, while the likelihood of problems is increased.’
This discussion leads us to consider what price we place on prisoner rehabilitation and whether the increasing prevalence of ‘super-prisons’ that are notoriously difficult to manage will have an adverse effect on prisoners’ human rights.