Well-behaved prisoners to be handed cell keys

Ministry of Justice announces controversial reforms to encourage good behaviour

A prison guard at HMP Pentonville in London
(Image credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Inmates will the keys to their own cells under a new incentive scheme to improve behaviour in jails.

The government has announced that governors will be able to award prisoners the privilege of being able to lock their own cells for more privacy.

Other bonuses for good behaviour will include prisoners being allowed to cook their own meals, take showers when they want and receive higher rates of pay.

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Under the plans, officers will also be encouraged to give prisoners “personal, warm and encouraging praise” with staff expected to say kind words to inmates “four times as much” as they reprimand them.

The Times says that “supporters of prison reform have criticised the system for being too rigid and concentrating on punishing bad behaviour rather than encouraging improvements.” Officials quoted by The Guardian cited evidence that “positive reinforcement was more effective as a means by which to change behaviour in the long term”.

Announcing the measures, the Ministry of Justice said keys handed to inmates could not be used to open locked doors and that those who did not abide by the rules could still lose privileges.

The reforms will result in the abolition of the “entry level” status for new prisoners. Introduced in 2013, it ruled that all new inmates had privileges restricted for the first two weeks of their incarceration. Prison governors had complained the system was “bureaucratic and penalises prisoners who are new – setting up an adversarial relationship with staff from the outset”, according to ministers.

“This new framework gives governors the tools to set clear behavioural standards for prisoners – enhancing their ability to maintain stability while steering offenders away from a life of crime,” said the Justice Secretary, David Gauke.

Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, said prisoners on a “basic regime” will be encouraged to behave better when they see inmates with extra privileges. “The prisoner on the basic regime looks out and says ‘I want a bit of that too’,” she said.

However, the plans have also met opposition. Mark Fairhurst, chair of the Prison Officers Association, said they were a “recipe for disaster”. He added: “If you have an incentives policy you must have adequate sanctions for people misbehaving. That is not happening.”

Tory MP Philip Hollobone said: “It is a good idea to incentivise good behaviour in prison. But I think it will appear to most people that this is a step too far, especially giving prisoners keys to their own cells.

“Prison has to be an unpleasant experience and give prisoners time to reflect on the crimes they have committed.”

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