05:39, March 06 112 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-06 05:39:09
Prisoners face new carrot-and-stick approach to tackle jail violence

Prison governors are to be given a refreshed system of “carrot and stick” incentives and sanctions to control inmates’ behaviour, including improved “virtual” family contact time, to help tackle the record level of violence in jails in England and Wales.

The justice secretary, David Gauke, cited his experience of benefit sanctions when he was work and pensions secretary as evidence that a system of incentives and penalties could work.

He also confirmed in a speech at the Royal Society of Arts in London that there would be a “back to basics” approach with an “immediate and relentless focus” on maintenance and staffing to tackle the filthy conditions inside some of the worst prisons.

During questioning after his speech, Gauke confirmed that prisons would have to “play their part” in implementing a further £400m in budget cuts. He also faced criticism that it was overcrowding rather than illicit drugs that lay at the heart of the prison crisis.

The justice secretary made clear he believed the prison population of 86,000 was too high but said he would not try to reduce it by “artificial means”. He also indicated there was still a strong case for plans by his predecessors to close squalid Victorian inner-city jails under a “new for old” policy and they remained under consideration despite the impact prison closures could have on overcrowding.

His first major speech on tackling the prisons crisis included a graphic account of the impact of the trade in psychoactive substances such as spice in prisons. He said a video had showed naked prisoners with makeshift muzzles and dog leads fighting each other in front of other prisoners.

Quick guide

British jails in jeopardy


The current male and female prison population is 84,255, having almost doubled in 25 years. Analysis suggests jails in England and Wales are holding more than 10,000 prisoners than they were built for, with two-thirds of prisons classified as overcrowded.


Currently at record levels, with 42,837 incidents – an average of 117 a day – documented during the year to September, an increase of 12%. Already it looks like it will be higher this year with 11,904 incidents recorded during the last quarter, equal to 130 a day. Eight inmates a day will be admitted to hospital. There is a suicide in prison every five days.


Again, at record levels with 28,165 incidents documented during the 12 months to September 2017, a 12% increase. Of these, 7,828 were assaults on staff . Already at unprecedented levels, the rate continues to escalate. During the last quarter of 2017, another record high was set with assaults rising to 86 a day.

Staffing numbers

The Ministry of Justice is now increasing prison officer numbers following dramatic cuts. Latest figures reveal a rise from 17,955 in October 2016 to 19,925 in December 2017. In 2010 there were 27,650.

Reoffending rates

The number of adults reconvicted within a year of release stands at 44%. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months, this increases to 59%.

“Another shows a prisoner climbing into a tumble dryer in the prison laundry room. Other prisoners then turn on the machine and he is spun around inside – a dangerous act of humiliation to ‘earn’ himself some more spice,” said Gauke, describing videos filmed by prisoners using illicit mobile phones and posted on social media.

He confirmed plans to recategorise up to 6,500 prisoners believed to have links with organised crime gangs that could see them moved to tougher jails with a higher security rating and more restrictive regimes. They could be moved if they were found to be directing crime from their prison cell.

He said 30 jails would get new technology to allow prison officers to quickly download data from illicit phones seized from prisoners. “This means officers can access information on a phone on the same day it is seized rather than it have to be sent away to be processed – something that can currently take months.”

In his speech, Gauke said he wanted to “reset and refresh” the current incentives and sanctions regime available to governors, saying that rehabilitation started with conformity with prison rules.

He said that the incentives could not only make prisons safer and more secure but also help break the cycle of reoffending. “That means prisoners having the opportunity to earn rights and freedoms, an opportunity to live in a more liberal environment, with greater personal responsibility, and therefore they have more to lose if they fall foul of the rules.”

He said governors would be able to offer prisoners more family contact by using technology such as Skype. They would also be able to offer inmates better job prospects after release with access to certain training and experiences, such as a temporary release on licence.

“Specifically, I want to look at how we can use release on temporary licence to allow those prisoners, who have earned it, to have a routine where they, with close monitoring, leave prison each day to go to work nearby.”