Conservative conference 2015: everything you need to know about Cameron’s comments on prisons

We go through Cameron’s comments line by line, so you don’t have to


David Cameron Conservative Party conference speech 2015

Cameron takes on reoffending, sentencing and super prisons during his party conference speech. Photo: Conservative Party

The prime minister David Cameron yesterday used his party conference speech to address the prison and probation system. Prisons are not ususally high up the political agenda, so the fact prison reform made it into Cameron’s speech is a success for campaigners.

Here are all the key points, with fact-checks, analysis and reaction.

Reducing reoffending

Half of criminals offend within a year of being released.

Inmates serving shorter than 12 month sentences are more likely to reoffend within one year than those on longer sentences or serving community sentences.

Of those sentenced to 12 months or less, 62.5 per cent reoffend within one year, according to the Ministry of Justice, compared with 56.2 per cent of those on community sentences, and 50.5 per cent of those serving sentences lasting between one and four years.

The government claims these high reoffending rates were a key driver for implementing Transforming Rehabilitation, the privatisation of 70 per cent of the probation service. Under the new scheme, prisoners serving 12 month sentences or less receive probation supervision, where before they had not. But critics warn that the private probation providers have no experience in working with ex-offenders.

Improving education in prison

Nearly half go into prison with no qualifications and many come out with none either… When prisoners are in jail, we have their full attention for months at a time – so let’s treat their problems, educate them, put them to work.

An MoJ study found that 47 per cent or prisoners have no qualifications compared with 15 per cent of the working age general population. Education matters, because it is a gateway into employment, which in turn is one of the key factors in reoffending.

But accessing education in prison is not easy. In 2013, Ofsted found that 65 per cent of education and training in prisons was not good enough, and education is particularly difficult to complete for those on short sentences.
According to the National Audit Office, a third of courses started in prison are not completed. The cost of that wastage comes to £30m a year.

Changing our perspective on prisoners

We have got to get away from the sterile ‘lock-em-up or let-em-out’ debate, and get smart about this.

This phrase suggests a departure from the typical Conservative attempt to appear ‘tough on crime,’ to appeal to the right of their party.

A new attitude towards offending and offenders was welcomed by Frances Crook, chief executive of penal reform charity the Howard League:

Replacing custodial sentences with electronic tagging

When we restrict someone’s freedom outside prison, we can make sure they’re working and paying taxes, rather than spending £30,000 a year keeping them in a cell – so where it makes sense, let’s use electronic tags to help keep us safe and help people go clean.

The Ministry of Justice is under pressure to make yet more cuts to its budget. Electronic tagging is far cheaper than a custodial sentence, and prevents offenders from losing their homes and families.

The government is still paying G4S and Serco millions of pounds a month for electronic tagging, more than a year after both companies were supposedly banned from delivering such work, it was revealed this summer.

Some welcome the use of tagging as an alternative to custody:



While others, such as Matt Ford at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, say controversies like the one with G4s and Serco raise serious questions about the nature of private companies providing public services.

Building super prisons

And when our prisons are relics from the time of Dickens – it is time to sell them off and build new ones that actually work.

This is going to be a big area of social reform in the next five years.

It appears Mr Cameron is paving the way for more super prisons: large, new prisons that hold many more inmates than older buildings. Wrexham’s super prison is due to open in 2017 and, with a capacity of 2,100 inmates, will be the UK’s largest jail. Fewer, larger prisons means inmates are likely to be held further away from home. Prisons also tend to be more dangerous when they first open.

In February, the prisons inspectorate Nick Hardwick warned of the risks of opening new, large prisons, pointing to the problems in Oakwood after it opened: “The difficulties Oakwood and other new prisons experienced immediately after opening resulted in unacceptable risks and very poor outcomes for the prisoners held at the time.

“I recommend that ministers undertake and publish a review of the difficulties Oakwood and other new prisons experienced after they opened and ensure the lessons learned are factored into plans for the opening of other new establishments.”

The “great Conservative reformer,” Gove

And I have just the man for the job. The man who began the great transformation of our education system and is now going to do the same for prisons. Yes, the great Conservative reformer, Michael Gove.

As education secretary Gove made a number of radical controversial reforms to the school system, including changing the way results league tables are compiled. His changes were controversial, and Gove was removed from the post, so the title Gove ‘the great reformer’ has been met with mixed responses on Twitter:



Read the full transcript of David Cameron’s comments on prisons here

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