Pomp and pageantry came to Westminster this week, with the Queen’s Speech setting out the British government’s legislative agenda for the coming Parliamentary session. But amid the ermine and jewels was a call for hard, empirical data.
The centre piece of the ‘Gracious Address’ was a major shake-up of the prison system in England. Legislation will be brought forward to give governors of six “reform prisons” unprecedented autonomy over education and work in prisons, family visits, and rehabilitation services. With this autonomy will come accountability and the publication of comparable statistics on reoffending, employment rates on release, and violence and self-harm for each prison.
Further details of the government’s prison reforms were contained “Unlocking Potential”, Dame Sally Coates’ review of prison education in England that was published this week. The review includes recommendations to improve basic skills and the quality of vocational training and employability, and also greater personal social development. Echoing the government’s move to devolve greater autonomy to prison governors, Dame Sally’s review also endorsed the need for governors to be held to account for the educational progress of all prisoners in their jails, and for the outcomes achieved by their commissioning decisions for education.
Improved education outcomes for individual prisoners will be supported by improved assessment of prisoners’ needs and the creation of Personal Learning Plans. However, Dame Sally’s review also made a call for greater performance measurement not only for the sake of accountability, but also for the planning and prioritisation of education services.
As noted before, this is an exciting time for prison reform on both sides of the Atlantic. However, reform must be made on evidence and supported by the hard data. Devolving decision making to those who know best is a bold move but with autonomy comes accountability and transparency. As Dame Sally’s report recommends, accountability and transparency are well served by,
“Developing a suite of outcome measures to enable meaningful comparisons to be made between prisons (particularly between those with similar cohorts of offenders) is vital to drive improved performance”.
As the pace of reform continues, GtD looks forward to supporting those reforms with our expertise of outcome measurement and social impact analytics.