The decision made in the EU referendum has undeniably changed the contours of political debate in the UK. However, while the Government negotiates the conditions of ‘Brexit’ we simultaneously continue to face a crisis in our prison system. Before the referendum the Government made clear that our prison system is failing, and it still is. Our prisons have been left to languish, as if they and the people they house are beyond redemption. Hidden behind high walls and razor-wire topped fences, prisoners have become objects to be feared, warehoused and ultimately forgotten. More often than not, current structures and processes actively stifle the initiative, innovation and creativity of staff and prisoners alike. It is time to reassess the effectiveness of such an approach, and the Prisons and Courts Reform Bill provides the perfect opportunity to do so.
Indeed, the planned prison reforms which featured front-and-centre in the Queen’s Speech 2016 have the potential to fundamentally change the way we approach criminal behaviour. Before his departure from office, David Cameron suggested that developing a ‘twenty-first century prison system’ needed to be a ‘great progressive cause’ in British politics, adding: 'we need a prison system that doesn’t see prisoners as simply liabilities to be managed, but instead as potential assets to be harnessed'.
These goals are far from modest, which means the stakes are high. Concerned with more than just the ‘look’ of our prisons, the prison reforms bill affords an opportunity to truly interrogate the fundamental principles which underpin approaches toward rehabilitation. This is a genuine chance to make prisons and non-custodial alternatives more effective, both in terms of cost to the public purse and with regards to meaningful behaviour change.
Drawing together several different themes and perspectives, this project sought to provide recommendations about how we might best address the challenges being faced in our prisons. The resulting report includes contributions from: Global construction consultant Gleeds; Professor of Criminology and expert in prison design Yvonne Jewkes (University of Brighton); Professor of Psychiatry and expert in behaviour change Keith Humphreys (Stanford University); Senior Lecturer in Criminology Dr Hannah Thurston (University of Brighton); renowned Industry Advisors PricewaterhouseCooper; American Justice Facility Planner and Design Consultant Mark Goldman and Chief Executive of The Nehemiah Project, Dr John Patience. While this report cannot fully address all aspects of rehabilitation, we are confident the evidence we present, from the UK and abroad, is sufficiently encouraging to be included as part of the current debate in the UK.