Sam Gyimah was speaking during a whistle-stop tour of Armley jail, as the Government tries to avert a growing crisis fuelled by claims the service is in “meltdown” - and just days after thousands of guards held protests outside jails in England and Wales, forcing ministers to take out a court injunction to order them back to work.
In Leeds, staff were on strike for just an hour.
“I am at Leeds prison today because I believe firmly that there is no substitute for listening to frontline staff about their experiences of the job, what the challenges are and what they are doing to deal with the issue of safety and violence in our prisons but also turning around prisoners,” Mr Gyimah told the YEP.
“Leeds is a good example of a prison that is making progress in this area.”
“The last report had Leeds on a ‘1’ for safety, which is the lowest grade you can get, but we have seen a turnaround in the prison, driven by improved Governor relations with staff.”
He said the Government had made “real investment in the security infrastructure in the prison”, including netting to stop the smuggling of drugs and mobile phones into the prison
Leeds prison is also getting 50 additional staff.
“Leeds will be one of the trailblazers for us to introduce a new offender management model, where every prisoner will have a dedicated prison officer to help turn their lives around,” he said.
Leeds prison was previously branded the most overcrowded in the country and former Prime Minister David Cameron sparked fears for its future after suggesting that Victorian prisons across the UK could be bulldozed.
Mr Gyimah admitted the Government is still “reviewing the entire prison estate” and “there are some prisons that are old and not really fit for purpose”, but he added “the bulldozers aren’t coming” to Leeds.
“We will be making an announcement in due course,” he said.
“But what I can say today is that with the progress that I have seen today at Leeds, talking to the staff, how motivated they are about what they are doing, I am strongly encouraged that they are doing the important job here of keeping their communities safe, but also working very hard to turn people’s lives around.”