David Cameron has today said that prison reform has been a “scandalous failure” for years and has pledged to make it the “great progressive cause” of politics. Ironically, the Prime Minister has expressed the same concerns nearly a decade ago when in 2007 he said that prison reform was one of the key planks of his “central mission”.
Northumbria’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird QC said “I’m very sceptical about what David Cameron has to say on prison reforn, he tends to re-hash his words every year and then deliver nothing. The failures that he condemns are his own – since the Tories entered Downing Street in 2010 we have seen over stretched prison staff dealing with violence and overcrowding”.
We have seen these problems first hand in our region. Last year, HMP Northumberland was branded “shambolic” by campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform, has seen massive staffing cuts and prison officers have raised concerns about safety over staff levels and growing unrest among inmates. Staff levels dropped from 441 in 2010 to 270 in 2013.
The former Chief Inspector for Prisons in England and Wales, Nick Hardwick, has told Cameron and his government that action needs to be taken. Hardwick made it clear to ministers that a 69% rise in self-inflicted deaths in jails is unacceptable in a civilised society and he warned that the public were being put at risk by a “political and policy failure in jails”.
Since Hardwick took up his post in 2010, he has published a series of increasingly damning reports documenting the depth of the growing crisis inside jails in England and Wales. His reports have also highlighted the growing toll of prison suicides and a rising tide of violence behind bars.
Vera Baird said “I commend Nick Hardwick for the issues he has raised over the years, if it had not been for his leadership things would be a lot worse than they already are. There is no getting away from it, David Cameron should hang his head in shame. Despite his promises, Cameron hasn’t tackled the drug abuse in prisons, he hasn’t tackled the problems that privatisation of prisons has caused and he hasn’t tackled the violence, squalor and idleness that the Chief Inspector of prisons referred to in his Annual Report 2014-15”.
Mrs Baird added “Nick Hardwick has tried his best to convince the government to take action, it’s a pity his findings fell on deaf ears. Now is the time for Cameron and Gove to buck up and get this problem sorted. Labour has long called for governors of successful prisons to be given greater autonomy and for prisons to become more rehabilitative – something the government is now suggesting, but given Cameron’s failures since 2007, I’m not confident that he will succeed”.