Fortunately, most of us will never see the work that goes on behind the imposing walls of prisons across the country, and it goes unsaid that we should all be immensely proud of the men and women who work there.
Not only do they ensure our safety, but they also play a crucial role in the fight against crime by challenging prisoners to reform and to lead law-abiding lives when they get out.
Although prisons must of course principally be places of punishment, it is also equally necessary that they be places of reform, so that prisoners can effectively become active members of our society.
We want prisons like Lewes Prison here in East Sussex to be places of hard-work, discipline and unfettered self-improvement. However, this is not the case on a national level, as there is currently a 50% chance that an offender leaving prison this year will re-offend within twelve months of release.
As well as the economic strains that this causes; amounting up to £15 billion according to some estimates, the cost to the victims is incalculable.
It is well known that offenders that instantly enter the workplace upon release are far less likely to commit another crime. This is where our prison staff come in. Under this Government’s reforms, as detailed in the recent White Paper and the Prison & Courts Bill, prison and probation staff will play a newfound, pivotal role in making our communities safer.
From this month governors will take control of budgets, giving them the freedom to decide what is the best financial strategy to improve performance in their prison. This signals the end of excessive and inefficient government oversight into the daily management of prisons.
As well as this, every prison officer will be tasked with six offenders to supervise and subsequently challenge to get off drugs, as well as to receive the necessary education and skills to become employable and consequently leave the criminal world behind them.
This offers a unique opportunity for prison officers to be an absolutely critical member of society. Positively transforming lives is one of the most rewarding things that one can do, and this is exclusively being offered to prison officers. This would have resounding benefits not just for the prison officer and the prisoner, but also for their respective families and the communities that they live in.
This coincides with the launch of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service - the new frontline agency which will have the responsibility of making our prisons and communities safer, and thus reducing the risk of reoffending.
This initiative will ensure that prison officers receive the training and support that they need in order to succeed in their upskilled roles, and therefore can be proud of the work that they are doing and of the organisation that they work for, knowing that it’s transforming lives.
This new frontline is also being bolstered by the recruitment of an extra 2,500 new officers, as well as a record number of new recruits in training.
These significant changes and reforms signify the biggest overhaul of the prison service in a generation. Supported by the Ministry of Justice – which has the responsibility for setting standards and scrutinizing the progress that individual prisons have made and how well they are performing – everyone is optimistic about the benefits that these changes could deliver to the prison system and our communities.
However, while we should be optimistic, we should recognize that we do not live in a Utopian society, and the problems plaguing our prisons cannot be solved overnight. These are problems that have been marinated over several years, and therefore cannot be solved in weeks or even months.
Yet, I know just how determined our Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss is to transform the structure of our prison system, which inevitably will make our society safer. I know that we can rely on her, as well as our brave and dedicated prison officers, to spearhead this charge and ensure that these reforms are hugely successful.