The prison reforms announced by former justice secretary Michael Gove remain a priority, lord chancellor Liz Truss said last night, praising her predecessor for doing a ‘fantastic job’.
Truss, who is due to address the Conservative party conference this morning, told an event organised by thinktank Policy Exchange last night that prison reform ‘is both urgent and very, very important’.
She added: ‘If we think what’s happening at the moment, we’ve seen a 40% rise in violence against staff in the last year alone. We also still haven’t seen a reduction in reoffending. And reoffending costs us all.
‘It’s estimated to cost £15bn a year. But that £15bn is unfortunately felt by victims who end up having crimes committed against them, whether it’s having your phone snatched or whether it’s being mugged.’
Instead of allowing people in prison to have access to drugs, Truss said prisons need to be places of learning, ‘places where people can get skills, when they can leave prison in a better position than when they entered. I think that’s a massive agenda for us’.
Noting that the justice system must be seen as a whole, Truss said she is interested in ‘how we can better integrate our work to look at end-to-end offender management, but also our court system and our legal industry’.
One of the things she is working on in a post-Brexit world, she said, is ensuring legal is an ‘even stronger’ industry and ‘reaching out right across the world’.
Another ‘massive agenda’ is using the opportunity to modernise the way the courts of England and Wales are working.
Highlighting the ministry’s latest consultation on plans to transform the justice system, Truss said: ‘It’s probably one of the areas of public services that has seen less change over the years. I think that makes it really, really important for reform.’
Truss praised Gove for doing a ‘fantastic job’ of making the case for reform. ‘And I feel to be proud to travel in his wake and to be able to make those reforms happen on the ground,’ she added.
Making reference to her time at the Department for Education, Truss acknowledged there may be some resistance to reform plans, from people who do not think things can change or that the same problems will continue.
But, she said: ‘I don’t believe that it’s inevitable that we have to have these high levels of reoffending where people are likely to commit crime again. Half of all offenders commit crime again within one year – I don’t think that’s inevitable. I do think we can change that.’
Truss said it is now a great time to be ‘championing new ideas and new policies’.
She stressed the importance of ensuring ‘we keep on being the people of ideas, people of reform, the people who can help drive our country forward – because we have a big opportunity now to project global Britain.
‘Of course to negotiate a fantastic deal following Brexit, but also to make sure that our country is “match fit” – match fit for what we are going to be able to need to compete.
‘And that means improving our productivity, it means improving our skills, it means improving our infrastructure. There is lots of opportunity for thinktanks to be coming up with new ideas.’