The government has announced the “biggest shake-up of prisons since Victorian times”. But while the media focuses on ‘iPads for prisoners‘ and ‘weekend inmates‘, the real story is in the handing of new financial powers to prison governors, allowing them “unprecedented levels of control over all aspects of prison management”. The government is using the academies model to privatise our prisons through the back door – and the results will be just as disastrous for prisons as they have been for schools.
In the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, the government announced its new prison and courts reform bill. At the heart of the bill is the creation of several new “autonomous reform prisons” which, says the government:
will give unprecedented freedoms to prison governors, including financial and legal freedoms, such as how the prison budget is spent and whether to opt-out of national contracts; and operational freedoms over education, the prison regime, family visits, and partnerships to provide prison work and rehabilitation services.
The academisation of prisons
If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The reforms are based on the academies model, as David Cameron admitted in a speech he made about the reforms in February of this year:
It’s exactly what we did in education — with academies, free schools and new freedoms for heads and teachers.
They were even introduced by the same man, Michael Gove. As Education Secretary in 2010, Gove said: “We trust teachers and headteachers to run their schools.” Now, as Justice Secretary, he says: “By trusting governors to get on with the job, we can make sure prisons are places of education, work and purposeful activity.”