Inside Time Report: New Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss MP
A cautious welcome and high hopes that the governments’ prison reform agenda continues
Following Theresa May’s appointment as the new Prime Minister one of her first actions was to sack Michael Gove as Justice Secretary. Andrew Selous was also removed as Prisons Minister. Gove, seen as the great hope for prison reform, has left behind a system in its worst state for decades; with staff cuts of 30%, restricted regimes, increased violence, weekly riots and suicides reaching all-time highs.
The successor to Gove, Elizabeth (Liz) Truss is the first ever female Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. 41 years old Ms Truss has been an MP since 2010 and was, from 2014, Environmental Minister. Soon after her appointment she stated that she intends to press ahead “at pace” with Michael Gove’s radical prison reform programme despite a fresh warning from the Chief Inspector of Prisons that a surge in jail violence is putting it at risk.
Truss cited the Chief Inspector’s report as demonstrating why prison reform is so important. “I want to see radical reform and I am under no illusions about the scale of the challenge we face or how long reform takes...I will set out the next steps for this agenda in the coming weeks, but I am clear that the vital work of prison reform will continue at pace,” she said.
Her statement will reassure penal reformers that she does not intend to ditch plans, despite the fact that she co-wrote a 2011 book calling for prisons to be made “tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable” – places of punishment.
In the House of Commons she voted for restricting the scope of legal aid an reducing welfare benefits. She is the third Lord Chancellor with no legal training and although she has been a member of the Justice Select Committee has no experience of the Ministry of Justice or prisons.
Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League, told us, “There are huge challengers faced by the incoming Justice Secretary but this is a time to speak of the opportunities. The problems to be found in our overcrowded prisons can be overcome with imaginative thinking and bold action to stop throwing so many people into these failing institutions, where they are swept away into deeper currents of crime by the boredom, drug abuse and violence behind bars. It is to be hoped that Elizabeth Truss is the person to take these opportunities on and we welcome today’s appointment by the new Prime Minister.”
So, what will Ms Truss have to deal with? Probably her first concerns must be with the massive problem of drugs and violence. The safety or prisoners and staff must be assured. She is left with overwhelming understaffing which is leaving many prisons on restrictive regimes with prisoners locked up for 23 hours a day fuelling control problems, violence and frequent disorder. A white paper was due in October outlining Michael Gove’s plans to devolve many powers to individual governors to allow them to run their prisons with more freedom and less central control. He also secured cash to build new prisons so he could close and replace old Victorian prisons. Truss will have to make decisions on these very quickly if she is to keep to his timetable.
The growing threat of extremists and radicalisation in prisons has to be faced and she will need to consider whether to follow Mr Gove’s idea of building special units to hold the hard core extremists. She will have to examine the Coates Report, which was about to be implemented in full by Michael Gove, and decide if she too wants to follow its proposals.
The independence of the Prisons Inspectorate, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, and the Independent Monitoring Board have all been under scrutiny and Ms Truss will need to move to ensure their absolute independence and reassure prisoners an the public.
Friends and families of IPP prisoners will be keen to talk to her at the earliest opportunity about getting prisoners who are way over tariff released and to remove the life sentence element from those prisoners released. The number of prisoners granted RoTL, seen to be crucial in preparing long term prisoners for release dropped 28% last year and there will be pressure on her to reverse the trend and ensure RoTL is available where appropriate. In 2015, 21,467 people were recalled to prison, often for minor administrative breaches which clogged up the prisons and increased work for probation staff. This is an issue which needs to dealt with as a matter of urgency.
On her first full day in the job Ms Truss travelled down the road to Woolwich to visit HMP Belmarsh and HMP-YOI Isis where she was shown round the education facilities and the wings. And her visit she said; “I am delighted and honoured to be appointed the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and look forward to implementing the vitally important justice agenda. I am grateful today to the governors and staff of both prisons, for showing me the impressive work they are doing to reduce reoffending and talking to me about some of the challenges they face. I look forward to working with Ministry of Justice staff and other agencies on our priorities – improving public safety and reducing reoffending, bullying a One Nation justice system, and upholding the rule of law.”
In a dramatic addendum to her appointment Lord Faulks, QC has resigned from the government in protest against the decision to appoint her to the senior post. Appointing Truss as Lord Chancellor risks demanding the justice system because she lacks the experience to stand up to the prime minister, Faulks said. “ I have nothing against Ms Truss personally,” he told The Times. “But is she going to have the clout to be able to stand up to the prime minister when necessary, on behalf of the judges? Is she going to be able to stand up, come the moment, to the prime minister, for the rule of law and for the judiciary…without fear of damaging her career? It is a big ask.”
Mr Gove, in an interview with Inside Time stressed how much real information he got about the prison system by reading Inside Time. We will ensure Justice Secretary Truss receives her copies and we look forward to future interactions with her office. We wish her every success in her new role.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to