Prison reform measures will be at the heart of the Queen's Speech


The first "reform prisons" will be announced as the Queen sets out the Government's parliamentary agenda for the next 12 months.

It's the biggest shake-up of Britain's prison system since the Victorian era. And it will be at the heart of the Queen's Speech.

One of Europe's biggest jails, HMP Wandsworth, is among the half dozen institutions where governors will be given sweeping new powers over all key areas of management.

HMP Wandsworth
HMP Wandsworth will be be ruled over by the new regime (Anthony Devlin/PA)

More than 5,000 inmates at the jails, which also include HMP Holme House, HMP Kirklevington Grange, HMP Coldingley, HMP High Down, and HMP Ranby, will be ruled over by the new regime.

Under the initiative governors will get much greater financial and legal power over areas such as budgets, opting out of national contracts, operational control on education, family visits, and partnerships to provide prison work and rehabilitation services.

Number 10 said the move - along with an overhaul of prison education - will see social reform and "extending life chances" promoted as the key themes of the legislative programme.

David Cameron talking
Cameron says "we have left our prisons to fester" (Frank Augstein/PA)

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "This is a one nation Queen's Speech from a one nation Government. It sets out a clear programme of social reform, so we break down the barriers to opportunity and extend life chances to all. And nowhere is that reform needed more than in our prisons.

"For too long, we have left our prisons to fester. Not only does that re-inforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up. It writes off thousands of people.

"So today, we start the long-overdue, long-needed change that our prisons need. No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed."

Michael Gove
Gove said the reforms will reduce re-offending (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

Justice Secretary Michael Gove said: "Prisons must do more to rehabilitate offenders. We will put governors in charge, giving them the autonomy they need to run prisons in the way they think best.

"By trusting governors to get on with the job, we can make sure prisons are places of education, work and purposeful activity. These reforms will reduce re-offending, cut crime and improve public safety."

The changes will see prisons established as independent legal entities with the power to enter into contracts, generate and retain income, and establish their own boards with external expertise, in what Gove called the biggest shake-up for more than a century.

Ministers were also announcing that satellite tracking tags which monitor the movements of offenders using GPS technology will be piloted in eight police areas, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northampton, from September.

prison sign in Surrey
Prisons like this one will become independent legal entities (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The move came as the Evangelical Alliance hit out at the Extremism Bill, which was believed to be included in the Queen's Speech.

The alliance's head of public policy Simon McCrossan said: "It's extreme to try and tell religious groups what they can and can't teach under the guise of fundamental British values. It's extreme to threaten to send Ofsted inspectors into churches if they don't teach British values. This Government's trying to fight extremism with extremism and the main casualty will be our fundamental freedoms.

The Queen's speech will also be used to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British bill of rights, it is reported.

And a Liberal Democrat MP has said tougher penalties for reckless drivers who kill and maim people are expected to be announced in the Queen's Speech too.