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In February 2016, the Prime Minister announced a government drive to boost rehabilitation and to reduce the number of people returning to prison after having served short sentences. Michael Gove has fast emerged as a radical and reforming Minister of Justice; his proposals to create ‘Reform Prisons’ where governors have autonomy over how they run their establishments will build on the work of the education sector and the development of academy schools.

One of the questions still to be asked is: Who runs prisons? Most prisons across the world are run by the state. In some countries, notably Britain and the USA, some establishments have been contracted out to the private sector: prisons for profit. No jurisdiction to date has explored a third way: not for profit prisons. That is prisons not run by the public or private sector but by the communities prisons are there to serve. The Future Prison project will explore this model, drawing on the good practice of some academy schools and NHS Trusts.

It will build on previous work done by the RSA including the Learning Prison, Transitions and Building A Rehabilitation Culture. It involves working with Transitions Spaces, a new community interest company that resulted from these studies. In particular it will:

  • Scope a model for a not-for-profit prison that places rehabilitation and social inclusion at the centre, while seeking ways in which the community might manage the facility and all it entails.

  • Identify a legislative, financial and managerial framework for such a model to flourish and be sustained.

Over the next 10 months, the project will combine research, including fieldwork within prisons, to explore the leadership and governance changes needed to support greater localism. It will include work on:

  • Leadership, autonomy and devolution;

  • Employment and education;

  • Risk management;

  • Workforce development;

  • Health and vulnerabilities, and

  • The role of peers as assets.

The Future Prison will seek to encourage the government to put the right legislative framework in place, as well as influence wider thinking within the Ministry of Justice, the National Offender Management Service, the prison service local statutory and voluntary services and potential future prison partners.

Our starting point is that giving some governors autonomy to make decisions over how they spend their budgets makes sense. However, a considerable amount of crime is local in its impact and nature. People in prison are members of the community passing through, some very quickly. It is incumbent on communities to seek to take greater responsibility for prisons and the complex process of punishment and rehabilitation. At times of financial austerity it makes sense for prisons to be part of an integrated solution rather than to stand, as the prime minister put it ‘out of sight and out of mind’. The government is seeking bold solutions and asking questions of wider society to solve the prisons crisis. The Future Prison aims to address some of these questions and more.

The RSA and Transitions Spaces are grateful to James Timpson, Lady Edwina Grosvenor and Hugh Lenon who have co-funded this project.