Robust political leadership and greater freedoms for governors could transform prisons

Press release

Prison reform measures to be announced in the Queen’s Speech today (18 May 2016) provide an opportunity to place rehabilitation and community engagement squarely at the heart of the prison service, according to a paper published by the RSA and Transitions Spaces.

Welcoming the changes, it argues that the potential for transformational reform requires long-term courage and consistency amongst political leaders. The changes include piloting six ‘reform prisons’, with the aim of giving all prison governors new freedoms to improve rehabilitation.

The RSA and Transitions Spaces paper marks the launch of a major new project – The Future Prison – that is exploring the potential of autonomy, and even devolution, to drive rehabilitation and reduce risk. Through expert papers, seminars, and fieldwork in prisons, the project will develop proposals for new prison leadership, workforce development and for the role that those inside prison can play in improving outcomes.

It argues that robust national leadership, coupled with greater freedoms for governors, could enable prisons to deploy funding and staff where they are most needed, embed innovation, strengthen relationships with local communities and economies, and adapt to local circumstances faster.

Rachel O’Brien, Director of Transitions Spaces and the RSA Future Prison project, said

"The current stresses on the system are undeniable. However, the government’s emphasis on rehabilitation – alongside giving governors’ more freedom to do what is needed to support this – has the potential to transform prisons into places of learning, progression and wider community engagement. If prisons are viewed as an end to a process rather than a potential new start, it proves much harder to engage local authorities, employers and the public - let alone staff and those in custody. Yet, effective rehabilitation benefits us all: it make us safer by reducing reoffending but also reduces unemployment, dependence on welfare and wider impacts on families and neighbourhoods. It both requires and drives local buy-in.”

Michael Gove MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, said:

“I welcome the independent Future Prisons research by the RSA, in pursuit of the organisation’s mission to enrich society through powerful ideas and action - and deliver a 21st century Enlightenment. As the Prime Minister has said, no longer should our prisons remain ‘out of sight and out of mind’. Reform cannot be confined within a prison’s walls. Wider society has a part to play, because when prisoners are released – as will happen for 99 per cent of them – they come back to live and work in the local community. Which neighbour or colleague is preferable? A frustrated, angry and un-cooperative ex-offender who feels stigmatised for life, or a successful, empowered citizen with an eye to a better future and a determination never to return to prison? The RSA’s Future Prison project will look at how to create prisons worthy of the 21st century. I look forward to reading its findings and recommendations.”

The project will look at how greater autonomy and devolution could help to strengthen prison’s interface with other services in addressing the multiple needs that many prisoners have including: health, wellbeing, employment and education. 

The Future Prison project, run by the RSA and Transitions Spaces, a community interest company, will publish a blueprint for future not-for-profit models of provision by the end of 2016. The programme’s Advisory Group will be chaired by former prison governor John Podmore. 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 Paul Tye (who has been in custody and developed peer to peer work).


Notes to Editors

  1. The RSA Future Prison project will publish interim outputs as the project develops with the aim of engaging a wider range of individuals and organisations.
  1. 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, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, now Chair of the Parole Board.
  • Hugh Lenon, Chairman, Phoenix Equity Partners.
  • Tony Margetts, Substance Misuse Manager, East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
  • John Podmore (Chair), Honorary Professor at Durham University and 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)
  1. 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.
  1. Transitions Spaces is a community interest company that works with prisons and wider services to strengthen rehabilitation. Its focus is on facilitating practical change, co-producing quality innovations with service users and staff, and influencing policy through this process.
  1. For more information contact RSA Head of Media and Communications Paul Duffy on 020 7451 6893 / 07799 737 970 or [email protected] 

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