Speech: Safer prisons, safer streets


War Hero

It’s a great pleasure to be here – I’m grateful to the Association and Council for inviting me to speak to you today.

I want to start by saying thank you.

Thank you for everything you and your teams do every day to reduce and prevent crime, to keep people safe – and feeling safe – in their communities.

Your work, your dedication, your sense of public duty, is part of the reason the police continues to be one of the most trusted professions in our country.

As the son of a police officer, I understand some of the difficulties and challenges that go with the job. Growing up, I soon learned about how the police had to put themselves in physical danger, had to drop everything in order to respond to an emergency, had to take responsibility when things got difficult. And the sense that society as a whole did not – could not – fully appreciate the nature of the role. So thank you.

The justice system

We talk a lot – and hear a lot – about ‘the justice system’. That system is in fact a web of connected and interacting agencies, organisations and professions.

What happens in one part of the system can have a direct impact on another – and there is much we can share and learn from each other in different parts of that system.

That’s why partnerships and collaboration, as exemplified by this summit, are so important if we are to rise to the modern-day challenges facing policing and justice.

One of the main challenges is the changing nature of crime. The technology and innovation that is transforming our lives for the better is also creating opportunities for criminals. I will come, in a moment, to some of the particular threats we face in our prisons.

But these new developments can frustrate our collective ability to ensure that justice is done – particularly when those crimes are complex, highly organised, and use methods that simply were not around 10 or even 5 years ago.

So it is important that we continue to work together to tackle the emerging, as well as the enduring, challenges head on; to find smarter and more joined-up ways of working.

Justice devolution: role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s)

The need for that kind of approach is one of the reasons this government is proud to have played a role in establishing the offices of democratically-elected Police and Crime Commissioners across the country.

The unique nature of your role allows you to view crime across the whole justice system in a way that is also rooted in your local area, as I see in Hertfordshire so often.

In meeting many of you, what has struck me is your passion for, understanding of, and dedication to, your local areas and the people who live there.

That’s exactly what these posts are all about – helping to deliver local results that are accountable to local communities.

A really important role you have is around delivering victim and witness services – it’s a role I know you care a lot about and are ambitious for.

For example, we’re seeing some PCCs take steps to improve monitoring of compliance with the Victims Code, as well as some PCCs developing innovative approaches to delivering services for victims.

Take for example the work of Northumbria and Cambridgeshire who have developed single points of contact for victims and are bringing services together to reduce the need for victims to go through the ordeal of re-telling their story.

I know other PCCs are taking a similar direction too.

I’d like to thank the APCC and the NPCC for working closely with the Ministry of Justice on our recent Victims Strategy – and now helping us to deliver on the commitments in the Strategy.

For example, we’re working with you on improving the information sent to victims and I know the NPCC lead for victims and witnesses, Assistant Chief Constable Emma Barnett, has set up a cross-agency group to look at the commitment in the strategy around simplifying the justice experience of victims.

I know all PCC areas have also been working closely with us to make sure the right support is in place in the event of a major crime incident such as a terrorist attack. This will ensure that wherever a crime occurs, and wherever the victims and families live, they will be referred to the support they need.

These are good examples of the work you do to bring together local partners and ensure the justice system as a whole meets the needs of communities. It’s why we committed in our manifesto to strengthen and enhance the office of PCCs.

Both the Ministry of Justice and Home Office are already working very closely with you – and we’re making good progress in some important areas.

The work we’re doing in cities like Manchester and London is showing what can be done, and I will be taking a very close interest in the results.

Emerging data from places like Manchester shows that a whole system approach is associated with a 40% reduction in adult women being handed immediate custodial sentences, compared to a reduction of just 3% across England and Wales.

Any future changes will, of course, need to be considered carefully and some areas are rightly out of bounds – the role of PCCs needs to respect judicial and prosecutorial independence, for example.

But I think it is absolutely right that we look at areas where an enhanced role for PCCs could improve the justice system.

To that end, we’re also working closely with you following our recent consultation on the future of probation and the expanded role that PCCs can play.

I had the pleasure of meeting with a cross-party group of PCCs to discuss some of our proposals, and we have committed to further engagement over the coming months as we develop and refine our ideas.

Tackling crime in prisons is tackling crime on our streets

When we look at overall justice outcomes, I think it’s important to look at the strategic position prisons have in terms of crime.

I believe prisons have emerged as a new front line in the fight against crime.

The fact is, new technology and sophisticated approaches mean that prison walls alone are no longer effective in stopping crime – inside or outside of prison.

Offenders who commit crime in prison have a disruptive, and often, devastating impact on the prospects of those who are trying to turn their lives around and who see prison as a pivotal turning-point in their lives.

But the impact of that crime not only affects prison staff and fellow prisoners, but reaches far beyond the prison gate. While offenders are rightly separated from society, prisons exist within communities.

There is a direct link between crime on the wings and landings and crime in our towns and cities. Ensuring there is less crime in our prisons means less crime in communities.

Crime is being fuelled by organised gangs and networks who see prisons as a highly lucrative and literally captive market to push drugs like Spice, as well as mobile phones and other contraband into prisons. This creates a thriving illicit economy within a prison.

As a result, we are seeing high levels of violence as individuals and groups vie for control of this internal market and enforce drug debts. Not to mention the effect the drugs themselves have in terms of violence. The availability of illicit mobile phones means more prisoners are committing online fraud and money laundering; harassing, extorting and threatening members of the public and grooming and victimising innocent people on social media – all from inside prison.

Of course, if you’re a victim of crime, you don’t necessarily care about the type of criminal network behind it, or that it was committed from inside a prison. You see it as a crime – and you want justice to be done and for it not to happen to someone else.

Whether a crime is committed on a prison landing or in the street, in a cell or in a shop – it is a crime. One of the primary purposes of prison is the protection of the public. We cannot allow our prisons to become incubators of crime. That puts prison officers and prisoners at risk, undermines rehabilitation and ultimately makes our streets less safe.

Joint approaches to disrupting crime in prison

That’s why we have been taking measures to make our prisons safer, crack down on the criminal gangs exploiting our prisons and we have been denying prisoners the space and means to prey on innocent – and often vulnerable – members of the public.

As announced in the Budget on Monday, we will spend an extra £30 million this financial year, on top of the £40 million we announced over the summer, to further improve decency, safety and security in prisons.

The Budget also provided funding for a new prison at Glen Parva in Leicestershire that will help us towards delivering on our commitment to building up to 10,000 new decent prison places.

But as well as investment, creating safer prisons relies on multiple agencies working together in a coordinated way.

Let me give you a specific example.

Earlier this year, a highly dangerous criminal with significant influence in an East Midlands prison came to the attention of the Prison Service’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit and the police.

During his time in prison, he was involved in the trade of drugs, assaulted prison staff and prisoners and was frequently found with improvised weapons.

Collaboration between the prison and police made the difference here: it meant that we were able to seize illegal mobile phones which disrupted his criminal activity and resulted in charges being brought and his sentence extended.

With this sort of joint work between police and the prison, he will find it a much tougher place to continue criminality.

And last year, it was also through a joint operation by prison intelligence officers and police that, together, we broke up a major organised crime gang that used drones to smuggle £1.2 million worth of drugs, weapons and mobile phones into prisons across the UK.

In the last few weeks, more joint operational work has led to a further 15 members of this gang receiving prison sentences of up to 10 years.

I want to build on these successes by following and targeting the money behind the gangs.

The Financial Investigations Unit I announced last month will track and seize the money that criminal kingpins use to deal drugs in prison – with police from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit embedded within it, bringing their expertise and powers.

And today, the government has announced its updated Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, which sets out how we will relentlessly disrupt the activities of high priority offenders, whether they are being investigated by the police, or managed by prisons or probation.

Approaches to dealing with crime in prison

It is right that we focus on this kind of intelligence-led and joint approach. But when crime does occur, we should be clear about how it will be dealt with and that those responsible are brought to justice.

One of the most despicable crimes we see in prisons are attacks on prison officers. Over the last 3 years there has been a 59% increase in assaults on prison staff.

That is shocking and sickening.

Let me be clear: an attack on a prison officer – or a police officer, or an ambulance worker, on NHS staff, fire officers or other emergency workers – is an attack on all of us.

That’s why I’m pleased we’ve changed the law and doubled the maximum sentence for attacking an emergency worker, including prison officers.

This will send a clear message that assaults on those who serve and protect the public will not be tolerated and they will feel the full force of the law.

Alongside changes to the law, we are taking steps to make the fullest use of the powers available to your forces, the CPS and the courts.

When a prison officer is attacked, the suspected perpetrator may well be moved to another prison later and as a result another police force.

This can cause delays and disruption to an investigation so, through close joint working between police and prisons, a new Memorandum of Understanding will make sure that police forces provide mutual assistance to each other when interviewing prisoner suspects.

Over the last few months we have been working with the police and CPS to revise and re-issue the cross-agency protocol on how crimes in prison should be handled. The updated protocol will set the standard for how we tackle crimes committed in prison in the future.

We are also investing in the training prison officers receive so they are able to collect and catalogue the evidence that is so crucial to prosecuting crimes in prison successfully.

Collaborative models

These are important practical measures, but we must also look more fundamentally at the models for policing our prisons.

I know there are a number of operating models already being used by some police forces, including having a single point of contact for the prison or dedicated investigative officers. As a result, there is some really encouraging work going in some parts of the country.

I want to particularly highlight the new unit set up within Greater Manchester Police. The unit is made up of police officers and detectives, supported by two lawyers from the CPS, who are dedicated solely to investigating crimes that take place inside HMP Manchester.

Of course, this approach won’t be right in every area. There needs to be a tailored approach to cutting crime in prisons. But as you look at your own responses, I know you will come up with new and innovative ways of doing it that can then be replicated in other areas across the country.


Tackling this new frontier of crime in prisons doesn’t just keep prison officers and prisoners safe from harm, it keeps all of us safer – in the short term and the long term. It is vital for rehabilitation and to give those offenders who want to turn their back on crime the best chance possible to do so. But we will only be successful if we continue to embrace a spirit of collaboration that has been the hallmark of the successes we have already seen.

I would like to take the opportunity to re-affirm my commitment to working with you in that spirit on tackling crime from within prison, but also as we strive for better outcomes across the criminal justice system.

As PCCs continue to cement their place in the justice system, I am proud of the role this government has played in establishing and supporting them and I am confident that there is an even greater role for you to play in the future. I look forward to exploring the possibilities with you.

In closing, let me reiterate my thanks – not just for the work you are doing with us at the Ministry of Justice but the work you do every day to protect the public from crime.

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