Abandoned prisons reform bill a 'missed opportunity', watchdog says

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An official watchdog has hit out at the Government's failure to include prison reform legislation in the Queen's Speech. 

In a highly unusual intervention, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke expressed disappointment at the "missed opportunity" and warned that too many jails are dangerous for prisoners and staff.

A Prisons and Courts Bill was introduced earlier this year to underpin wider efforts to improve standards across the crisis-hit estate in England and Wales.

But after the election was called, the legislation was ditched before clearing parliament, and the proposals relating to prisons have not been resurrected.

The abandoned bill would have enshrined into law that a key purpose of prison is to reform and rehabilitate offenders, as well as punish them for their crimes. 

Mr Clarke said: "I am very disappointed that prison reform has not found a place in the Queen's Speech.

"The Prisons and Courts Reform Bill, introduced last year, enjoyed broad parliamentary support and had made real progress through parliament until it was lost when the General Election was called.

"This is a missed opportunity to forge ahead with prison reform.

"The law would have required the Government to respond to our findings.

"We will continue to report the harsh reality of what we find in our prisons - all too many of which are dangerous for prisoners and staff alike and are failing in their duty to rehabilitate and reform prisoners. 

"We will continue to press for strong leadership and a real commitment to reform."

Stabilising and improving the prisons system will be a key priority for new justice secretary David Lidington. 

Mr Clarke's assessments have repeatedly raised concerns over high levels of violence, self-harm and suicides behind bars. 

Drugs have emerged as a major problem in jails. Last week, a report detailed how inmates were seen openly smoking cannabis during an inspection of HMP Brixton.

A number of measures introduced as part of the overall prison reform strategy are already under way. 

These include a recruitment drive to add 2,500 officers to the frontline and a mandatory drug-testing regime for inmates.