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Howard League blog · 7 Oct 2021

A 10-point action plan to change prisons and build safer communities

I have written to the new Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, with ideas for a radical plan of action, as we understand he is preparing for publication of a White Paper on the future of prisons. Change is needed in a system that is antiquated and failing victims, the taxpayer and perpetrators.

The deprivation of liberty is the most serious punishment available to the state. The removal of civil rights as a consequence of incarceration is a profound action.

The practical ramifications of imprisonment are immense, from the cost to the public purse to the damage to families.

Prisons have failed by any measure. They have fed the crime problem, they have not solved it.

It is time to rethink the purpose, use and experience of prisons so that we do not continue to harm individuals and society.

Prison has been used profligately and inappropriately. This needs to change.

The Howard League seeks to abolish prisons as they are.  Prisons should be a smaller part of the system, serving a focussed role within a wider structure aimed at creating a safer community.

Prisons should not be used for people with mental illness, people who are merely annoying or different, or people facing immigration issues.

Prisons should be run on principles of justice and fairness, treating people with consistency, impartiality and respect. Instead, prisons today are places which embed injustice. Treating people in prison with justice and fairness would have a ripple effect and help to build safer and fairer communities.

Prisons are part of the community. Families, voluntary organisations and visitors should have easy access to, and relationships with, people in prison.

The Howard League has developed an outline plan and we will build on the ideas in a series of blog postings over the coming weeks:


  • Stop the prison expansion programme, put legal limits on the population each prison can hold, and end the use of prisons for profit, so that we can reinvest in existing prisons within the public sector
  • Reduce the prison population by at least a half and start planning for reintegration immediately with families and purposeful activities
  • Stop the use of prison for people with serious mental ill-health and improve the health and well-being of people who are detained. Drive down self-injury and deaths in custody
  • Reduce the number of Black and ethnic minority people in the penal system. Equality of outcomes should be rigorously monitored and pursued across the penal system
  • Close the failed young offender institutions and secure training centres and use only local authority-run secure children’s homes for the very few children who require custody
  • Close women’s prisons and introduce small local residential units for the tiny number of women who commit crimes serious enough to merit a custodial sentence
  • Curtail the power to remand people to prison and introduce the possibility of individuals applying to court for compensation if found not guilty
  • Abolish unfair and inconsistent practices, such as the imposition of additional days of imprisonment and arbitrary recalls
  • Reform the prison officer role so that it is a profession with a proper career path, qualifications and training
  • Introduce real work opportunities in prison for long-term prisoners, bringing businesses into prisons to train and employ prisoners and have them paying tax and national insurance.


I appreciate that this requires considerable change, but after more than a century of a failing system, it is time to take action.


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