Prison overhaul will be debated

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PLANS to overhaul Britain’s prison system with league tables and greater freedoms for governors will be scrutinised today as the Secretary of State for Justice is questioned by MPs.

Michael Gove is to go before a special meeting of the Justice Select Committee in the House of Commons where he will be tackled on his bold plans for the future of the service.

As part of a proposal announced in February, prison league tables could be published on how well institutions do at helping offenders gain qualifications and employment, a Teach First-style programme will financially reward graduates for teaching in jails and governors will have greater control over budgets and services.

Mr Gove is also expected to field questions on the prisons’ estate after he said that some inner city Victorian jails could be sold off and the land redeveloped. New state-of-the art prisons would then be built to take their place.

The future is unknown for HMP Leeds, better known as Armley Jail, as it was built in the mid-1800s.

Meanwhile, a former lord chief justice of England and Wales has criticised ministers for the imposition of fixed term sentences. Independent crossbencher Lord Woolf said sentences would be shorter if judges were not prevented from using discretion.

At question time in the Lords, he said: “The reason sentences are longer than they’ve ever been - the inflation is caused by action taken by governments and not by judges to impose fixed sentences.”

Lord Woolf said these formed “rocks” in the system, on which the “rest of sentencing” had to be accommodated adding: “If that wasn’t the case, sentences would be shorter because judges are prevented from imposing the sentences they otherwise would by fixed sentences.”

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