On 20 March, Victoria Prentis MP spoke in the Second Reading debate on the Prisons and Courts Bill. The legislation introduces a range of measures aimed at enhancing prison safety, improving access to justice, and protecting victims and the vulnerable. Victoria’s speech focused on the clauses relating to prisons, given her role on the Justice Committee and their ongoing inquiry into prison reform. She emphasised that the Bill was ‘a note of hope in the fairly dark places that are our prisons’ and found proposals to make prisons places of rehabilitation encouraging.
Turning her attention to specific clauses of the Bill, Victoria welcomed increased autonomy for prison governors; measures to crack down on illegal mobile telephone use, and enhanced powers for prison officers to test for new drugs.
During the course of the debate, Victoria said: “Truthfully, much good work has been done by those in the sector for many years to stop prisons simply warehousing offenders. It is still welcome, however, that the provisions included in clause 1 establish for the first time a much broader statutory purpose. It emphasises reforming and rehabilitating offenders, preparing prisoners for life outside prison, and maintaining an environment that is safe and secure. It is clear and unequivocal in its purpose, and provides a point of focus for all who work in the prison community. The Minister will have noted the considerable pressure from Members on both sides of the House during the course of the debate to incorporate mental health on the face of the Bill.”
Victoria also managed to make some interventions during the debate, one of which focused on the families of offenders. She pointed out that a staggering 63 per cent of children of prisoners grow up to offend and asked the Secretary of State for Justice for reassurances that she will do all that she can to reduce this number. In her response, the Rt Hon Liz Truss MP confirmed that she would protect schemes that create the right culture and atmosphere in prison, and help maintain positive links between imprisoned parents and their children.
Speaking afterwards, Victoria commented: “This is a long overdue piece of legislation that is welcome in both its scope and content. Ensuring our prisons are places of rehabilitation to reduce offending rates is really important. We must also do all that we can to make our prisons safer, particularly given recent disturbances. I look forward to following the Bill’s progress through Parliament, and hope to see its measures implemented soon.”