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Prisons and Courts Bill to set out duty for jails to reform offenders

Prisons will be expected to reform criminals as well as punish them under a major justice overhaul being unveiled on Thursday.

Ministers will present legislation aiming to transform crisis-hit jails and drive down reoffending that costs society £15 billion a year.

The wide-ranging Prisons and Courts Bill sets in law for the first time that a key purpose of prisons is to reform offenders, as well as punish them.

Under the shake-up - billed as the biggest overhaul of prisons for a generation - governors will take control of budgets for education, employment and health.

They will be held to account for getting inmates off drugs, into jobs and learning English and maths.

League tables detailing how prisons are performing will be compiled, with the first data expected to be made public in August.

The Bill brings together a number of reforms announced in recent months as prisons were hit by surging levels of violence, suicides and a spate of major disturbances.

Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "Prison is about punishing people who have committed heinous crimes, but it should be a place where offenders are given the opportunity to turn their lives around.

"I want our prisons to be places of discipline, hard work and self-improvement, where staff are empowered to get people off drugs, improve their English and maths get a job on release."

Other measures in the Bill include:

:: Powers for courts to put an end to domestic violence victims being quizzed by their attackers in family courts

:: Fixed tariffs capping whiplash compensation payouts

:: An extension of "virtual" court hearings, allowing victims to take part without running the risk of coming face-to-face with their assailant

:: A new system allowing those charged with less serious criminal offences -such as failure to produce a ticket for travel on a train - to plead guilty, accept a penalty and pay it online

Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said: " Britain has the best justice system in the world, but it should also be the most modern, because we have a vision for a justice system that truly works for everyone.

"Victims and the most vulnerable are at the centre of our changes, which will help deliver swifter and more certain justice for all."

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: "The Conservatives' Prison and Courts Bill simply fails to deal with a prisons crisis that has developed on their watch.

"Prisons must reform offenders, but these proposals are an inadequate response to a serious situation."

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "A statutory commitment to a system that rehabilitates is crucial to building safer communities.

"But the key task for legislation is to ensure that prisons are places in which that ambition can actually be realised."

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