New ‘smart’ prison is no soft touch, says Justice Secretary

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has defended a new “smart” prison designed to drive down crime after being asked if it is a “soft-touch” jail. On a visit to HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Mr Raab said inmates at the category C prison needed to be given “a sense of what life on the outside looks like” because “we are not going to lock everyone up for life”. The 1,700-capacity prison does not have bars on its windows, and will provide prisoners with access to a gym, snooker table, table tennis table and a tablet to gain new qualifications.

Its staff have also said they will describe cells as “rooms” and prisoners as “residents” in order to assist in their rehabilitation. Speaking to reporters at the jail on Thursday, Mr Raab said: “I’m interested in punishment, because that’s what the public expect, but I’m not really interested in stigmatising in a way that’s counter-productive to my aim of driving down re-offending. What you’ve heard about, which I like, is the idea of giving offenders something to lose.

Prison director John McLaughlin with Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab at category C prison HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough

“If you come to a place like this with the gym, the workshops, the ability to do the skills education, you get a glimmer of the future as to how your life could be.

Then it’s up to the offender to take that second chance and if they don’t, they lose those entitlements, they lose those perks.” The Ministry of Justice said the jail will also host 24 workshops and prisoners will be able to get on-the-job training in areas such as coding, car maintenance, fork-lift-truck maintenance, plumbing and engineering. The new jail, on the site of the old HMP Wellingborough, is the first of six new prisons to be completed, with another in Glen Parva, Leicestershire, currently under construction.

Asked if HMP Five Wells was a “soft-touch” prison, Mr Raab said: “Take the windows, you’re right. You go and look through the window of that cell and you don’t see bars and actually, you get some sunlight in. There is definitely something about the hope and the motivation that gives to the state of mind of the offender.

“At the same time, because they’re not bars and because they’re very high-secure windows, we’ve got far less contraband coming in, the risk of stuff coming in via drones is much lower. The question is, what is the best way to drive down the offending – and it’s a combination of making that cell secure, which those new windows do, and also trying to get an offender, particularly one that might have had a persistent, longstanding set of problems and track record of offending, to think of things a different way.

New 'smart' prison is no soft touch, says Justice SecretaryAn offender vacuums the gym at category C prison HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough

“But there’s no doubt about it, prisons need to be secure, they need to punish, but they also need to try to give, because most offenders are going to be released, a sense of what life on the outside looks like.” The MOJ said HMP Five Wells is the first prison to be built with “education, training and jobs at its heart”, and Mr Raab said he would be answerable for the effectiveness of the “smart” prison.

He said: “The sentencing is going up, but the question you’ve got to ask yourself if you’re a victim or a member of the community, is what happens when they are released, because we are not going to lock everyone up for life. “What are the factors, the motivation and the drivers of getting offenders to go straight? The contact with their family, which is the heart and soul of it, the technical skills… the ability to go online and get a new qualification and improve their literacy and numeracy.”

He continued: “I’ll be answerable for this, and we’ve got (key performance indicators) which will judge this, but judge it on the effect it has on driving down re-offending and crime. As I said, my starting point is not theological, it is how do I protect the public, what are the factors that will drive down re-offending? Once they’re on that track, surely we want to motivate it to protect our society?”

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