Belfast Telegraph

Prison reform measures to be at heart of Queen's Speech

The biggest shake-up of Britain's prison system since the Victorian era will be at the heart of the Queen's Speech.

The first six semi-autonomous "reform prisons" will be announced as the Queen sets out the Government's parliamentary agenda for the next 12 months.

One of Europe's biggest jails, HMP Wandsworth, is among the half dozen institutions where governors will be given sweeping new powers over all key areas of management.

More than 5,000 inmates at the jails, which also include HMP Holme House, HMP Kirklevington Grange, HMP Coldingley, HMP High Down, and HMP Ranby, will be ruled over by the new regime.

Under the initiative, governors will get much greater financial and legal power over areas such as budgets, opting out of national contracts, operational control on education, family visits, and partnerships to provide prison work and rehabilitation services.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "This is a one-nation Queen's Speech from a one-nation government. It sets out a clear programme of social reform, so we break down the barriers to opportunity and extend life chances to all. And nowhere is that reform needed more than in our prisons.

"For too long, we have left our prisons to fester. Not only does that reinforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up, it writes off thousands of people. No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed."

Justice Secretary Michael Gove said: "Prisons must do more to rehabilitate offenders. We will put governors in charge, giving them the autonomy they need to run prisons in the way they think best."

Ministers were also announcing that satellite tracking tags which monitor the movements of offenders using GPS technology will be piloted in eight police areas, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northampton, from September.

The move could see prisoners become weekend inmates and spend the rest of the week at home as they hold down jobs.

The move came as the Evangelical Alliance hit out at the Extremism Bill, which was believed to be included in the Queen's Speech.

The alliance's head of public policy Simon McCrossan said: "It's extreme to try and tell religious groups what they can and can't teach under the guise of fundamental British values. It's extreme to threaten to send Ofsted inspectors into churches if they don't teach British values. This government's trying to fight extremism with extremism and the main casualty will be our fundamental freedoms."

The Institute of Directors said it was looking forward to the announcement of a British spaceport.

Tougher penalties for reckless drivers who kill and maim people are expected to be announced in the Queen's Speech, a Liberal Democrat MP has said.

Greg Mullholland, who has campaigned for changes to the law, said sentences for those who kill or injure as a result of reckless driving now looked set to be increased in line with those given to murderers.

The maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years, but the average sentence served by those convicted is just four years.

The Queen's Speech will also be used to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British bill of rights, it is reported.

It has already drawn some criticism from lawyers who fear Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement could be put at risk.

Some 136 groups, including Amnesty International , Friends Of The Earth, Refuge, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, and the Football Supporters' Federation, have united against the move.

A joint pledge states: "We believe in fundamental human rights and freedoms - shared values that protect every member of the human family and the society we seek to build together.

"Human rights underpin our democracy, hold governments to account and require that everyone's dignity is equally respected.

"We pledge to oppose any government plans to repeal our Human Rights Act - in so doing we stand firm on guaranteeing universal human rights protections for generations to come."

The Government will also announce measures to overhaul the care and adoption system in a bid to improve the chances of children in social care in England while plans to encourage schools to become academies, watered-down following a Tory backlash, are also due to feature.


From Belfast Telegraph