Date: 3rd Jun 2016
A lecturer in Law at Buckinghamshire New University has said that the reforms to the prison system outlined in the Queen's Speech at this year's opening of Parliament must be supported both in principle and in practice if there is going to be lasting change to issues including overcrowding and reoffending.
Dr Bea Myers, from the School of Management & Professional Studies at the University, said: "This reform is undoubtedly to be welcomed, but it also must be realised that real and lasting changes to the prison system will not happen overnight, and must be supported both in principle as well as in practice.
"There are many pressing concerns in relation to the system as it stands today. According to Council of Europe figures, Britain has the largest prison population in Western Europe, standing at around 95,000 inmates. Britain also has the highest number of prisoners who are serving life sentences, as many other European countries have reduced their use of indeterminate sentencing. As a result, British prisons are plagued by overcrowding, with many currently operating at 150 percent of their capacity.
"In addition to overcrowding, a government report in 2010 revealed that nearly half of offenders will go on to reoffend within a year of being released from prison at a cost of around £9.5 billion a year, and there have been calls to close some of the Victorian-era buildings which are highly unsuitable to serve as modern penal institutions."
According to Dr Myers, the proposals outlined to tackle some of these issues could also open up new employment opportunities to graduates: "Under the proposed Prisons and Courts Reform Bill, six prisons will be given more direct control over their budgets and functioning and there is an increased emphasis on transparency, particularly in relation to prison governors. This reform could be good news for graduates, as the government is hoping to fast-track recruitment, including in relation to the education and training of inmates."
However, while the proposals could offer some much needed change to the system, Dr Myers questions how extensive the reforms can be in light of budget cuts, adding: "One could rightly question how these extensive reforms can be achieved in light of the severe cuts that have been inflicted on the prison service over the past five years, which has particularly affected the staff-to-prisoner ratio. This has resulted in a lack of experience and expertise in what is a highly challenging profession, as well as increasing numbers of assaults directed towards staff."
Picture: The Gateway building at the University's High Wycombe campus.