State agencies need to “wrap their arms around” problem families to prevent young people getting sucked into crime, Boris Johnson has said as he announced a £100 million investment package to boost security in prisons.
The Prime Minister reiterated his warning that jails cannot become “factories to turn bad people worse” as he vowed to cease the flow of drugs, weapons and phones flooding into prisons in a bid to cut violence inside and ensure sentences reform and rehabilitate.
On a visit to HMP Leeds – a category B local prison in Armley which was one of the country’s most overcrowded when it was inspected two years ago – Mr Johnson said his Government was “putting money into every aspect of the criminal justice system”.
He has made a series of spending pledges since entering office, and the latest has further fuelled speculation that he is preparing for an early general election amid the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.
“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,” Mr Johnson told reporters.
“What we are going to do is put £100 million into scans and checks of all kinds to protect the staff and to stop the prisoners bringing in, to put it bluntly, in their alimentary systems, drugs and mobile phones, which greatly degrade the life in prisons.
“And of course what we need to do is make sure when they come out there is a proper plan to resettle them and to get them jobs and that is a huge national challenge for us.”
He said he wanted to see more companies, like key cutters Timpsons, take on ex-offenders and give them “a chance of a path to redemption”.
“When you talk about stopping people getting onto the conveyor belt (of crime), we should be tackling all the challenges young people face.
“That’s why we are putting money into violence reduction units, for all the agencies of the state to wrap their arms around the problem families that are going to produce the kids that are overwhelmingly likely to be sucked into crime, and tackle it that way.”
Violence and drugs in prisons have been in the spotlight in recent times, with prison officers staging a mass walkout last year over safety concerns.
But Labour accused the PM of “timidly tinkering at the edges”, saying the money falls short of the sum needed to reverse the damage caused by years of Conservative cuts.
The Ministry of Justice said the funding, affecting jails in England and Wales, is newly-released from the Treasury and will be immediately available.
The sum will fund an increase in X-ray scanners and metal detectors across the prison estate, and be used to target drug smugglers and kingpins who continue to run their rings from behind bars.
It will also be used to strengthen the corruption unit that identifies dishonest prison staff.
And it will expand technology to detect and block mobiles being used in prisons and to identify those harassing victims or organising drug deals from within prison.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon was critical of the scale of the announcement.
“These measures fall woefully short of what is needed to make our prisons safe. Faced with a prisons emergency caused by austerity, Boris Johnson is timidly tinkering at the edges,” the Labour MP said.
“Reckless Tory cuts to staffing and budgets unleashed unprecedented levels of violence in our prisons.
“Boris Johnson should set out a detailed plan and provide proper funding to ensure that our prisons have the staffing and resources needed to focus on rehabilitation and reducing re-offending.”
The spending pledge is the latest in a string of announcements from the PM, each adding to suspicions a general election is looming.
Mr Johnson pledged £2.5 billion to create an extra 10,000 prison places over the weekend and £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Monday.
In recent weeks, the Government has also announced a £1.8 billion cash injection for the NHS and a £2.1 billion boost to no-deal Brexit preparations.