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Prisons minister: I’ll quit if safety drive fails

Rory Stewart told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he expected to be judged on the impact of the new drive on assault statistics.

The prisons minister has pledged to resign if his campaign to tackle violence and drugs in struggling jails fails.

Rory Stewart made the vow as he launched a £10 million blitz to raise standards in 10 establishments that have been hit by “acute” problems.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I will quit if I haven’t succeeded in 12 months in reducing the level of drugs and violence in those prisons.

“I want to make a measurable difference. That’s what this investment is around.

“I believe in the prison service, I believe in our prison officers. I believe that this can be turned around and I want you to judge me on those results and I will resign if I don’t succeed.”

Mr Stewart told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he expected to be judged on the impact of the new drive on assault statistics.

He said: “In these 10 prisons in particular violence is a real problem so the fundamental thing that I want to do and I’d like to be judged on over the next 12 months is reducing that violence, reducing the number of assaults.”

Asked how much of a reduction he would consider a success – 25% or 10% – Mr Stewart said it would be “something of that sort”.

He added: “I’m not talking about a minor reduction, I’d want you to feel that this had been a substantial reduction and that it was going in the right direction.”

Under the new scheme, £6 million has been earmarked to bolster physical security with drug-detection dogs, body-scanners and improved perimeter defences.

It is one of the most challenging jobs anywhere in Britain today, standing on a prison landing outside a cell door working with prisoners Rory Stewart

Three million pounds will be spent on improving the fabric of the chosen jails, including repairs to basic infrastructure such as broken windows.

The third strand of the programme will see £1 million spent on bespoke training programmes and interventions for governors, with a staff college model inspired by the military set to be developed.

Mr Stewart acknowledged that the funding was “relatively modest” but added: “The key really is the philosophy we bring to this, in other words the training, the support for prison officers.

“It is one of the most challenging jobs anywhere in Britain today, standing on a prison landing outside a cell door working with prisoners.”

The 10 prisons selected for the programme are Hull, Humber, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, Nottingham, Ranby, Isis and Wormwood Scrubs.

The Ministry of Justice said the jails have struggled with acute problems including high drug use, violence and building issues.

While governors and staff have dealt with the challenges, the project will provide them with the resources and support to make decisive progress, according to the department.

Officials said the scheme will be up and running in all 10 prisons by the end of the year, with “tangible results” expected within 12 months.

It is the latest in a string of steps aimed at tackling the safety crisis that has gripped the prisons system in recent years.

Figures published last month showed self-harm incidents and assaults in jails were at record levels, while finds of drugs and mobile phones increased by 23% and 15% respectively in the year to March.

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