In his inaugural speech as Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway College last night, Nick Hardwick set out his views on what makes for a good prison. Recently released from his duty to catalogue the deteriorating state of the nation’s jails, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons turned his mind to what’s needed to turn into reality the government’s ambitious agenda to “lead the world with new rehabilitation techniques and smarter ways of managing prisoners”.
On one requirement he was clear; if the prison system cannot take on more personnel – and he seemed pretty sure the spending settlement will not permit that- then there will have to be a reduction in the numbers of prisoners. Many of the failings that Hardwick has documented since 2011 – in keeping prisoners safe, in providing purposeful activity and preparing them for release - boil down to inadequate staffing. Hardwick will, like many, be disappointed to read today that the Justice Secretary hasno intention of seeking to reduce the size of the prison population. Michael Gove appears to believe that you can improve the ability of a pint pot to accommodate a quart by letting the pot decide how to do it.
Hardwick was careful to say that he personally would not be significantly contributing to reducing prison numbers in his new role as chair of the Parole Board where he will decide on the liberty of the most dangerous prisoners. He pointed to the possibilities for less serious offenders; of increased use of tagging, sentences served in instalments and radical alternatives for women and children organised in the health and social care sectors. While Gove has echoed the call for more radical thinking with these latter groups, they amount to about 5% of the 85,753 people in prison last Friday. By closing the door on prison reduction for adult men, Gove has made the bold promises to create a modern, more effective prison system look a good deal emptier.
In his surprisingly upbeat speech, Hardwick urged reformers to seize the day and help the Government to fulfil those promises. The case, he thinks, for penal reform has been made, thanks in part to the work of his inspectorate. What’s needed now is to get the basics right within prisons, to improve and increase the training of staff and devolve leadership away from Whitehall, initially in the six Reform prisons and nine new establishments. Do this in one in eight prisons and Hardwick foresees a momentum to transform the whole system.
Or at least he did yesterday. But devoting adequate resources to the task of imprisonment was an underlying requirement for him and one which today looks seriously in question.