Robert Buckland has said the Government is “determined” to restore faith in the criminal justice system as he announced plans to “set a new direction of reform” for prisons.
In a speech to the Centre for Social Justice on Tuesday, the Justice Secretary said he intends to bring forward a white paper setting out a 10-year plan on the number of prison places and considering other measures on accommodation after release.
Mr Buckland said: “I can announce today our ambition to publish a prisons white paper – to set a new direction of reform as the prison estate adapts to recent legislative changes, transitions from Covid-19 and begins to look to the future of criminal justice in England & Wales.”
He later added: “Prisons and the work done in them will need to lead the way and the government will soon bring forward proposals on how the prison estate can better cut crime both today and tomorrow, keeping dangerous criminals out of our communities, and giving those who want that chance to rejoin society as law-abiding members of it.
“That’s how we will rebuild the criminal justice system in our country and that’s how I believe we will cut levels of crime for good.”
Likening making changes in the criminal justice system to “trying to turn a fleet of ships together at the same time”, he said: “Our aim is to get each of them into formation, moving in harmony, towards a more just Britain of tomorrow.”
There are around 65,000 sentenced offenders in prisons, Mr Buckland told the audience, and Government reforms already set in motion will mean that “many prisoners will spend more time in custody”.
While there are already plans to spend more than £4 billion on creating 18,000 prison places over the next six years, Mr Buckland said: “We must go further, and we hope that any forthcoming white paper will include a 10-year plan to create the next generation of prison places.”
The policy proposals will “look again” at improving security to tackle drugs behind bars, he pledged, while also suggesting there should be better use of technology overall in jails.
“Resettlement passports” may also be considered to help criminals turn their life around after prison in a bid to reduce reoffending.
Mr Buckland promised more work would be carried out to look at the experiences of women in prison and that the plans could “take a fresh look at how we can retain talented staff” and develop their skills.
There will be a bigger focus on making the unpaid work criminals have to carry out as part of a sentence more visible so justice is “seen to be done” and to use it to help “clean up neighbourhoods” and “act as a deterrent”, he said, so would be criminals are “fully aware that punishments will be served in the full gaze of their local communities”.
The Government is “making strides” to deliver “faster justice” to try and hear as many court cases as possible now coronavirus restrictions have lifted, Mr Buckland insisted.
But he warned: “What’s clear is that we will feel the after-effects of the pandemic for quite some time to come, and, in many ways, we will need to learn to live with it.”
Highlighting efforts to tackle the low number of prosecutions for rape and sexual assaults, he added: “We are determined to restore faith in the system, to reshape it so that it is better able to punish these horrific crimes and to deliver the justice that victims so need and deserve.”