Violence and drug use have fallen at eight of England’s most challenging prisons in the 10 Prisons Project which Rory Stewart gambled his Prisons Minister role on last year.
The former Prime Minister hopeful had pledged to quit if the project failed to succeed in 12 months.
However, his metric for success was a little more vague – he told the BBC that a “significant” reduction in the number of assaults in prison, in the region of 10 to 25 per cent would suffice.
“The project’s findings will help decide how resources are invested, with prisons across the country getting similar airport-style security to clamp down on the drugs, weapons and mobile phones."@lucyfrazermp explains how the #10PrisonsProject will make all our prisons safer 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/cQLIg997lw
— Ministry of Justice (@MoJGovUK) August 22, 2019
But a year is a long time in politics – as we found out with our recent look at the housing minister merry-go-round. Stewart was moved to International Development Secretary in May before resigning from that role after losing out to Boris Johnson in the race for Number 10, despite winning the internet for his TV debate antics.
But new Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer, who took over from Robert Buckland in July, insisted that the results of the project were “encouraging” in the 10 prisons – Hull, Humber, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, Nottingham, Ranby, Isis and Wormwood Scrubs.
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There was a 16 per cent reduction in assaults overall – down from the 3,500 assaults in the previous year, which itself was a 15 per cent rise – with a 50 per cent reduction in positive drug tests across the prisons.
HMP Lindholme and HMP Isis both saw a 46 per cent reduction in assaults, while drug use fell by 84 per cent at Lindholme and 78% at HMP Wealstun.
Great to see positive results from 10 prisons project. Key is learning the lessons & applying across the estate.
— Charlotte Pickles (@ce_pickles) August 22, 2019
However, assaults increased in Nottingham and Wormwood Scrubs despite £10m increase in funding to tackle security issues using x-ray body scanners, and refurbished cells and communal areas.
The Big Issue attempted to contact Rory Stewart to find out if he would have resigned or not on the back of these results, but we were told that he is “not giving interviews during parliamentary recess”.
However, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that overcrowding remains an issue.
He said: “It has always been possible to yank a very poor prison back from the abyss for a while, but the strategic problem of prisons holding too many people has never been properly addressed.”
“Tightening security in a few troubled prisons is all well and good, but ministers will have to take a different approach if they want to tackle the problems in more than 100 jails across the country."
— The Howard League (@TheHowardLeague) August 22, 2019
And the Howard League for Penal Reform’s chief executive Frances Crook said: “The Prime Minister splurging cash on security measures will fail to deliver if prisoners are given nothing to do and released with nowhere to live.
“Without a fundamental change in approach and reducing the number of people held behind bars, prisons will continue to be like polluted factories, spewing out more and more crime into the communities around them.”
Prison security has been high on Boris Johnson’s agenda since he moved into Number 10. He has pledged £100m to bring in body scanners to stop the flow of contraband as well as new prison places and a sentencing review.