Prisons: Boris Johnson pledges £100m to boost security

image source, Getty Images
image captionThe prime minister visited Leeds prison

Prisons in England and Wales are to receive £100m to improve security and cut crime, the government has said.

Airport-style security - such as X-ray scanners and metal detectors - would be introduced in more prisons, it added.

PM Boris Johnson said stopping weapons, drugs and phones getting into jails would prevent them becoming "factories for making bad people worse".

But Labour accused him of "tinkering", adding cuts had led to "unprecedented levels of violence in our prisons".

It also follows government initiatives for the NHS and immigration, which have sparked speculation about an early general election - although Mr Johnson has ruled one out before the Brexit deadline of 31 October.

Whilst on a visit to HMP Leeds, the prime minister said the government needed to help prevent young people getting sucked into crime by "wrapping their arms" around struggling families.

"I don't want to see prisons just be factories to turn bad people worse. We need to be making sure that they are educated and there's not a culture of gangsterism and drugs in the prison system," he said.

There also needed to be a "proper plan to resettle" people when they came out, he added.

image source, Getty Images

Although most prisons already have some "airport-style" security controls, Mr Johnson said the extra money would be invested in struggling prisons - to help prevent drug smugglers from "fuelling a rise in violence and self-harm".

January saw the number of assaults in prisons in England and Wales reach a record high. This number includes attacks by inmates on other inmates and those which target staff.

The Ministry of Justice said the £100m funding was newly-released by the Treasury and would be made available immediately.

It will fund an increase in "cutting-edge technology" to detect and "block mobile phones", which criminals use to "organise drug supplies" or harass victims from their cells.

'Funding can't be one-off'

Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governor's Association, welcomed the plans but warned continuous funding was needed to reduce drug-fuelled violence in prisons.

She said: "This [£100m funding] can't be one-off. We do need to have recurring money because it isn't just around the staff to run the kit.

"It is around the technology that will give us a rich source of security, so we need to beef up our security departments in prisons, so we can identify who the key players are in prisons."

Ms Albutt added that "wrap-around services" were needed to combat the "instability" caused by drugs flowing into prisons, and help inmates stem their addictions.

"[Drugs] are an absolute driver of violence in our prisons," she said. "It causes debt, it causes bullying, and intimidation.

"If you look at the prison safety statistics over recent years, month-on-month they hit record highs [for] prisoner on prisoner violence, prisoner on staff violence. We have got high levels of suicides, very high levels of self-harm, and this is all linked to drugs."

media captionThe BBC tried out the new body scanner, which caught an inmate smuggling drugs on its first day in use

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said there was a direct link between crime inside of prison and "crime on our streets".

"This funding will have a transformative effect on prisons and give our hard-working officers the advantage as they tackle this scourge head-on," he said.

But shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the announcement fell "woefully short" of what was needed.

The Labour MP said Mr Johnson is "timidly tinkering at the edges" and blamed "reckless Tory cuts to staffing and budgets" for the "unprecedented levels of violence in our prisons".

And Frances Crook, chief executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "It is shameful that prisons have deteriorated so badly that they have become centres of crime and violence and drugs.

"Now the government has to pour good money after bad to try and solve a problem that they have created."

image source, PA Media
image captionFrances Crook, the chief executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Wera Hobhouse said it was a "hollow move" and that more money should be spent on rehabilitation to stop people committing crimes.

"Boris Johnson can lock people up for longer or search people on their way in and out of prison, but none of this bravado will actually make our streets safer," she added.

In August last year, under former prisons minister Rory Stewart, the government promised to invest £10m to improve security and conditions in some of the worst prisons in England and Wales,

At the time, Mr Stewart pledged to improve conditions in 10 prisons which the Ministry of Justice said had "acute problems" with high drug use, violence and building issues.

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