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Overhaul of prison service required to promote rehabilitation and protect the public

Press release

Prison and probation services in England and Wales are failing to protect the public because they fail to rehabilitate offenders, and should be radically restructured, according to a new report published today by the RSA.

  • Forthcoming prison reform White Paper must include a new legal rehabilitation duty on prisons
  • Urgent investment in staffing numbers and skills also critical for safety and progress
  • NOMS scaled back; powers and budget devolved to community-based prisons

The report, A Matter of Conviction: A Blueprint for Community-Based Prisons, sets out a new way of running the prison and probation system, and outlines how inconsistent political leadership has created a system which puts community safety at risk and does not reduce reoffending. It estimates that the cost to the taxpayer of reoffending in England and Wales could be as high as £10.7 billion.

The report calls for the government’s forthcoming White Paper to prioritise a National Rehabilitation Strategy, running to 2020, which should contain:

  • Legislation to establish a new rehabilitation duty, requiring prisons and probation to track individual and institutional progress towards rehabilitation
  • Urgent investment to return frontline staffing numbers to 2010 levels to reduce security and safety risks and to protect prisoners and frontline workers. This would address the 28% fall in officer-grade staff between 2010 and 2016.
  • A new 2020 Rehabilitative Workforce Plan to retrain prison officers focussing on rehabilitation skills. This would create an empowered workforce with more transferable skills and deeper knowledge about behaviour change and the needs of the prison population.
  • The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) should become a smaller, more independent arms-length function focused on resilience issues such as population management and the high-security estate
  • The creation of Local Prison Boards, comprised of community members such as health, housing and education services, local authorities, employers and service users, should take over funding responsibilities from NOMS and oversee strategy for each prison.
  • By 2020, the remit of Police and Crime Commissioners should be expanded to include commissioning prisons and probation services to meet the needs of their region

It concludes that the government’s commitment to prison reform is welcome, but the forthcoming White Paper must be underpinned by a long-term vision with rehabilitation at its core, capable of securing cross-party consensus and mobilising public support.

The report is the culmination of the year-long Future Prison project by the RSA and Transition Spaces into how 21st century prisons could better support rehabilitation. It is the first comprehensive inquiry into the whole prison system, involving everyone from serving and former prisoners to specialists in education, employment and health, as well as those with senior prison experience.

The programme’s Advisory Group was chaired by former prison governor John Podmore, and other members include Dame Sally Coates (Director of Academies South at United Learning), Brodie Clark (Former Director of Security for the Prison Service), Nick Hardwick (Former Chief Inspector of Prisons and Chair of the Parole Board) and James Timpson (Chief Executive, Timpson).

The report’s author and Director of the RSA Future Prison project, Rachel O’Brien, said:

“The potential impact that prisons could have on reducing reoffending and community safety has been undermined by a lack of consistent political leadership and clear purpose. This has led to reactive policy, episodic change and an over-centralised system, which has disempowered the workforce and undermined public confidence.

“These structural problems are a barrier to rehabilitation, which requires the engagement of local people, employers and services. The government’s commitment to sweeping prison reform is welcome. It must now be underpinned by a combination of measures that tackle short-term capacity, through investing urgently in frontline prison staff, and long-term vision and structural change. The results will be a self-improving system that brings communities closer to the justice system.”

Commenting on the report, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA, said:

“The prison system badly needs reform. This urgent, important and cogent piece of work makes real the possibility of redefining prison and rehabilitation so that they work both for those in the system - governors, prisoners, staff - and for society.

Its findings epitomise the RSA’s approach to social progress: prisons must become institutions embedded in the wider community, and reform must address the causes of reoffending and the social exclusion of former prisoners, rather than simply the symptoms"


Notes to Editors

Background information

A Matter of Conviction: A Blueprint for Community-Based Prisons sets out a comprehensive programme of reform and argues that the government’s forthcoming White Paper must contain a 2020 Rehabilitation Strategy. This should include three key elements:

1. Adopting a Phased Process of Devolution

  • The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) should become a smaller more independent arms-length function focused on resilience issues such as population management and the high-security estate.
  • NOMS should devolve funding to Local Prison Boards, which wouldoversee local strategy and include representatives of heath and education services, local authorities, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) offices, employers and service users. While retaining the national prison service, boards would be free to develop special purpose vehicles to drive innovation, integration and raise additional funding from external sources.
  • Governors would have control over budgets, staffing and commissioning services for their prison and would work with the Local Board on developing a prison rehabilitation strategy. They would be responsible for working within a regional framework and performance would be measured - alongside probation services - in relation to rehabilitation and progression of prisoners. The methods for measuring progression and performance would be decided locally.
  • In the short term, new Regional Rehabilitation Hubs should be made responsible for developing 2020 Regional Rehabilitation Strategies in line with the national strategy and the new Rehabilitation Requirement.
  • By 2020, the remit of PCCs should be expanded to include commissioning prisons and probation services to meet the needs of their region. The report concludes that models will vary according to area and that scrutiny arrangements for PCCs need to be strengthened in line with them taking on wider responsibilities and risk.
  • Greater autonomy and a core focus on reducing risk through rehabilitation should be supported by an enhanced and more integrated prison and probation inspection regime. This should include making Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons compliant with the obligations from OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture), which should be put on a statutory footing. Both inspectorates should develop consistency on assessing rehabilitative outcomes, such as education and employment, and introduce outcomes on leadership and management.
  • In addition to involving Public Health England and the NHS in developing devolved arrangements, the government should ensure that Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNA) provide clear statutory guidance on people on licence in the community and those in custody, and that Health and Wellbeing Boards be instructed to include prisoners explicitly in their priorities.


2. Building a Rehabilitation Workforce

  • Frontline staffing should be returned to 2010 levels. As a foundation of reform, additional investment is urgently needed to reduce security and safety risks and to protect prisoners and frontline workers.
  • Recruitment should be linked to a 2020 Rehabilitative Workforce Plan. This should develop a new training offer, skills strategy and career paths for prison officers and focus on developing a rehabilitative workforce with transferable skills across prisons and probation.
  • A Centre of Excellence in Prisons should be created to drive standards, leadership and evidence. Delivered through an ambitious model for the current training centre, Newbold Revel, this should learn from the College of Policing and consideration should be given to a centre working across prisons and probation.


3. Designing in Rehabilitation.

  • The government’s prison building programme should be informed by first principles and by evidence of what supports rehabilitation, including size, locality, available networks and employment.


Advisory group

The full membership of the RSA Future Prison Advisory Group is:

  • Dame Sally Coates, Director of Academies South at United Learning.
  • Brodie Clark, Former governor and Director of Prison Security.
  • Michael Corrigan, Chief Executive, Prosper 4 Group (with direct experience of custody)
  • Lady Edwina Grosvenor, Prison reformer and philanthropist.
  • Nick Hardwick, Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway University Chair of the Parole Board, and former Chief Inspector of Prisons
  • Hugh Lenon, Chairman, Phoenix Equity Partners.
  • Tony Margetts, Substance Misuse Manager, East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
  • Anthony Painter, Director of the RSA Action and Research Centre
  • John Podmore (Chair), former prison Governor.
  • Matthias Stausberg, Group Advocacy Director, Virgin.
  • James Timpson, Chief Executive, Timpson.
  • Paul Tye, Former service user manager, CRI (with direct experience of custody)



The RSA aims to enrich society through ideas and action. We believe that all human beings have creative capacities that can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment. We work to bring about the conditions for this change, not just amongst our diverse Fellowship, but also in institutions and communities. Our work ranges from the future of our cities and communities, to education, moving towards a more creative economy and the redesign of public services.

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