Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Gove Actually: What the Justice Committee should ask the Justice Secretary

I’m not sure whether the Justice Secretary’s alleged involvement in RoyalBrexitgate means that he is now officially "beleaguered", but coming on top of his branding by the boss as nuts and a Maoist, he will perhaps be looking forward to returning to the day job tomorrow when the Justice Committee asks him about the Government’s plans for prison reform.  But ten months into that job, with no evidence of any improvement in the state of the country’s jails, it’s really time for him to provide some concrete answers about what he’s actually going to do rather than say. He seems to have ruled out cutting prison numbers – something the Committee has long called for – and will no doubt have to justify what looks a perverse if politically safety first position. 

Here are five additional points for the Committee to put to him. First which precisely of the Victorian city centre prisons are to be closed and sold and when. Holloway’s the only one that’s confirmed plus Reading which is already empty. The plans were announced in the Autumn statement but there been little further detail since then.
Second which are the so-called Reform prisons which governors are going to be given greater autonomy to run, freed from the bureaucratic shackles of Whitehall and the fragmenting effects of outsourcing ? Presumably high performing ones to begin with or will there be some strugglers. It will be interesting to know the rationale.

Third what is that autonomy going to amount to in practice.  If Academy schools are the model, how much change will Prison Principals be able to make to the curriculum and what control will they be given over, for example admissions -or even discharges?

Fourth, what does Gove make of the Probation reforms? There have been reports of problems lasting well beyond the teething stage with staff morale at rock bottom and CRC’s looking to withdraw from their contracts. He’s not been shy of ditching several of his predecessor’s policies. Could Transforming Rehabilitation become the most significant item on the list of Grayling’s failings?

Finally a bit of clarity would not go amiss on the proliferation of reviews that Gove has commissioned. He seems to have accepted the findings of the Coates review on education before the report has been published. It’s not clear whether Charlie Taylor’s radical trajectory for youth custody has been similarly received nor exactly what his extended terms of reference include- the age of criminal responsibility for example?    The Committee will no doubt want to be updated on Gove's post G4S plans for STC’s, his proposals for accommodating young adults in custody, and initiatives for preventing radicalisation in prison. 

Some information on these questions may come out from the Ministry of Justice in advance of the hearing. Otherwise, it will make for a frustrating hour or two. But on Budget Day, few will probably notice.   

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