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CEO blog

An open letter to the new Justice Secretary – a five-point plan for a better justice system

Dear Secretary of State – congratulations on your appointment. You’ll have a lot in your in-tray over the course of the coming days and weeks.  

Firstly, let me say that the sector is staffed by many dedicated, professional and inspirational people. Both within HMPPS and the sector more broadly, tens of thousands of staff and volunteers work tirelessly every day to keep prisons safe and provide people with a fresh start. 

However, even the most optimistic of us would agree that the sector faces unprecedented challenges. Rates of self-harm remain close to record levels; there is a recruitment and retention crisis; reoffending costs society £18bn a year.  

Here are five things you can do to create safer prisons, drive down reoffending and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. 

1. Reconsider plans to expand the prison estate. Take that money and invest it to provide more support to reduce reoffending, which now accounts for 4 out of every 5 crimes that are committed.  

2. Deliver all the recommendations of the Farmer reviews and put family relationships at the heart of prison regimes. Keeping prisoners in contact with family and friends reduces the risk of self-harm and violence and builds safer communities - prisoners who receive visits from a family member are 39% less likely to reoffend.  

3. Make better use of community sentences. Too many people who offend because they are mentally ill and addicted languish in cells where they will get worse, not better. Community sentences with treatment requirements are significantly more effective at reducing reoffending than a short stay in prison. 

4. A coherent delivery plan for the women’s estate. The Government’s pledge to build 500 new places for women contradicts the aim of its Female Offender Strategy to ‘reduce female prison places’. We need a coherent approach that imprisons fewer women who pose low or no risk to the public.  

5. A credible plan to recruit and retain prison officers. Over 1 in 7 officers left the service last year – this is a crisis. Governors cannot run safe, secure, decent establishments without confident, professional, experienced staff. We urgently need a credible plan. 

At Pact, where we see problems, our approach is to listen to people, study the evidence, analyse the best way forward, then roll up our sleeves to deliver the kind of support people tell us would make a difference. Through a number of innovative schemes, that is exactly what we are doing.  

We will continue to work with you, your team and your officials to demonstrate the benefits of a system in which prisons are used sparingly and as places of learning and rehabilitation. 

Good luck! 

Andy Keen-Downs 
CEO, Pact