THE BLOG

Unless Government Focuses on Prison Officers, Reforms Will Fail

14/02/2016 22:31 GMT | Updated 12/02/2017 10:12 GMT

When he announced a series of 'fanfare' prison reforms this week, it seems that the Prime Minister David Cameron woke up to the reality that his Government's austerity cuts have had a detrimental effect on the UK prison system. In fact, his speech was a long overdue 'wake-up' call to his ministers and a consequence of having slashed the prisons budget so dramatically since 2010 that prison officer morale has plummeted and prisoner re-offending statistics have soared.

Yet even in the smugness of his announcement, the Prime Minister dodges key issues and establishes another 'distancing mechanism' to absolve his ministers and his government from the consequences of his new strategy.

Despite public unease as to the quality and validity of crime statistics, Mr Cameron claims yet again to have 'cut crime by around 23%' a claim that flies in the face of the large numbers of individuals who have given up on the 101 police contact system, who experience little or no effort made to solve instances of low-level criminal behaviour, or who see cases 'dropped' by the CPS as 'Not being in the public interest'.

Instead Mr Cameron signals his intention to hand more responsibility to Prison Governors. Fine words maybe, but what does this achieve if there is no proper operational frameworks in place, resources to draw upon and more importantly aspects of 'EU Human Rights' legislation that will allow prisoners to regularly flout sentencing and even deportation?

In a little reported part of the announcements we also notice another example where a public service is expected to act as pseudo border guards when the PM stated that the Government will legislate to give the police new powers to require foreign nationals to hand over their passports and declare their nationality in court.

Well, border control and passport checks go hand in hand. Why should society wait until a crime has been committed before establishing that the individual, with his criminal background or because he is an EU passport holder, has had unrestricted entry to the UK?

Police officers will now join landlords and hospitals in undertaking precisely the responsibility that UK Border Control undertook before it too was subjected to Conservative Party 'Modernisation & Re-structuring' and the damaging outcome of a reduced personnel resource.

Prisons are there for a purpose - to punish and to deter. There will always be an element of society who sees crime as a way of life. We also know that the nature of crime is changing. If a national government has no real idea of the size of the country's population or the speed at which it is increasing then civil servants are unable to plan prison infrastructure and UK prison service resourcing will be inadequate.

Our prison service makes a hugely valuable contribution to the security of civil society. Morale and motivation amongst prison officers should be a pivotal priority for this government.

It is heartening to see the value and common-sense of UKIP's 2015 General Election manifesto commitments appear in the PM's announcement even if it is a slight re-jig of UKIP's specific policy: 'Rehabilitation and re-integration into society for all prisoners is a UKIP priority, so it is essential that prisoners have sufficient numeracy and literacy skills to re-enter the workplace'. Although regretfully the PM does not go far enough, as UKIP did, in outlining how that might happen, be financed and ultimately delivered.

Regretfully, as is now usual for the David Cameron, his announcement outlines expansive pledges but lacks the key workable detail that would make it credible. Whilst I welcome the changes, particularly those areas where the Government has followed UKIP's lead, far more must be done to restore morale and motivation amongst prison officers.

I call upon David Cameron to add some key detail and immediately commit to reversing the 41% cut in prison officer strength which has happened on his watch since 2010. Yes, one can re-invigorate and re-invent the role and competencies of the Prison Governor but it is the prison officer staff who should be the real target of his plans. Without them, motivated and able to withstand the stresses of their daily workplace experiences, the pivotal lynchpin underlying his announcement is sadly missing.

As UKIP's Justice & Home Affairs spokesperson my support is with the prison service and I hope that the PM's announcements will prove to be genuine and that he can deliver.