Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Sadiq Khan's speech on prison reform: full text

"We will strive to turn prisons into engines of work, education and training."

Speech to the IPPR and Prison Reform Trust

It’s a pleasure to be here today, and to see so many friendly faces 
I want to thank the Prison Reform Trust and IPPR for hosting today’s speech
Both organisations are invaluable in helping politicians understand the challenges of constructing a justice system that works.

Nelson Mandela once said “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails”
Over the three and a half years in this job, I’ve visited a lot of jails.
Big ones, small ones, women’s jails, young offender institutions, secure children’s homes and training centres
New ones, Victorian ones
Public, private
Good, failing 
I’ve seen the full spectrum
Only now can I appreciate Mandela’s words 
And these visits have helped shape my thinking, culminating in today’s speech, “Prisons That Work”

It's an undeniable fact that we live in a society where people do bad things 
Sometimes so bad that being sent to prison is the only option. 
However prison should be a last resort, reserved for serious, violent and persistent offenders
And it’s an undeniable fact that most of those in jail today won’t be in for ever
90% of those inside will be free a decade from now, having done their time
So when we say we want prisons that work, we know that can’t mean jails that are simply huge warehouses, squashing in ever more prisoners, who are doomed to idle away their days, all too ready to slip back into a life of crime when they’re released
That means more victims, more human misery and a massive waste of talent
And then there’s the cost
According to the National Audit Office, re-offending costs us £13billion a year 
That’s almost double the Ministry of Justice’s budget
Tackling re-offending – by making prisons work – would save money and make us all safer as a result
With budgets under pressure, we have to do everything we can do reduce re-offending

During Labour’s 13 years in Government crime fell by 43% 
But by the end of our time in office, there were 85,000 people behind bars – 25,000 more than in 1997
I don’t believe there is a simple, perfect correlation between the rise in prison numbers and the fall of crime
It’s far more complicated
Undoubtedly, sending to prison more bad people for longer did help bring down crime rates
But, although they nudged downwards in our final years, we didn’t do enough to bring down rates of re-offending 
We laid the groundwork for reductions in re-offending with Bradley, Corston, the Youth Justice Board and the intensive alternative to custody pilots 
We recognised that offenders are not one uniform group
There are distinct groups within it, each with differing characteristics, and each requiring a different approach
We started to do the necessary work to address it, particularly in our latter years in Government. 

And for a while, I thought the Tories got it too
Like many, I was sympathetic to their talk of a rehabilitation revolution
But now I realise it was nothing more than a sham
That it was all part and parcel of their hug a hoodie, hug a husky masquerade
That it was just an exercise in spin, to make the nasty party seem less nasty
And to make the voters think they had changed. 

Many of you will recall “Prisons with a Purpose”, their 2008 pamphlet
I’ll hold up my hands – there’s plenty in it I agree with
Their calls for small, local prisons
And their focus on rehabilitation and work in prisons
In his foreword, David Cameron described the proposals as “a new generation of prisons and a new model of prison management. It is designed to deliver justice for victims and to ensure that prisoners make restitution to society for their crimes, and leave prison with better skills and prospects than they had when they entered”
Who could disagree?

And this carried on in their early months in Government
Some of you may remember my warm words in the House of Commons when Ken Clarke unveiled his Green Paper Breaking the Cycle in December 2010 – I certainly do

But it unravelled
The Tories reverted to type
Even more so when Ken Clarke was unceremoniously dumped for Chris Grayling – a classic Tory lurch to the right
I’ve not heard the words rehabilitation revolution leave Chris Grayling’s lips
And, as the Chief Inspector picked up in his most recent annual report, there’s no longer any mention of working prisons.
Nick Hardwick said “Only a few years ago we heard a lot about ‘working prisons’ and making prisons places of productive activity. More recently there has been a deafening silence on this topic and prisons might be excused if they believe this is no longer a priority”

Let’s go through their record
Remember in opposition Tory criticisms of Titan prisons?
David Cameron declaring “the idea that big is beautiful with prisons is wrong”
I agree – big, supermax style prisons aren’t the answer
We don’t want giant warehouses 
Massive stadium-like jails with thousands and thousands of criminals lumped in together
Difficult to control and keep order, let alone doing anything like rehabilitation
But what’s happened now?
Suddenly, they’ve embraced Titan prisons
Wrexham, and maybe Feltham down the line, will get two enormous prisons of over 2,500 prisoners
And let’s not forget about the 400 place, £85million Secure College in the East Midlands – you could call it a teenage Titan.
What a reversal!

They said smaller well performing prisons were their model
But in government they’ve closed them down
At the end of last year, the National Audit Office said the Government had “traded good quality and performance for greater savings. For example, it closed some high-performing prisons before new prisons were performing well”
In February 2013, Chris Grayling held up G4S run Oakwood Prison as his blueprint for the rest of the prison system 
Just weeks later a damning inspection revealed drugs easier to obtain than soap
I’ve been to Oakwood Prison
Believe me, it’s a model of how not to run the rest of the prison system!

We were told that they’d put prisoners time to good use on education, training and work
But the reality is it isn’t happening
And to hide their shame they’ve even given up collecting data on the amount of purposeful activity undertaken by prisoners 

Things are in a bad shape
Overcrowding is up
Prisons are regularly locked out
608 incidents of police cells used for prisoners over a recent four month period
Last Friday, just 568 places left in the whole system
Riot Squad called out 72% more times than in 2010
Deaths in custody highest for a decade with four people a week dying in 2013
A string of shocking prison inspection reports – Winchester, Oakwood, Pentonville, Brixton, Bristol, Thameside, Risley
Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, warning last October that “the cracks are beginning to show”

And where’s the Government’s focus been during that time?
It’s been on gimmicks
Small, tabloid-friendly announcements that play to the gallery, giving the impression they’re doing something when really they aren’t
Such as banning the sending of books to prisoners
A policy so plainly ridiculous it has come in for huge criticism from leading authors as well as from some of Grayling’s own MPs!
Under a Labour Government ministers won’t put obstacles in the way of prisoners reading books
We will end the ban on books. 
And we will review the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme to make sure it is not undermining efforts at rehabilitation. 

The Government’s rehabilitation agenda all but ignores prisons
Instead, the Government have put all their eggs in the basket of privatising probation
But these plans are uncosted, untested and untried, and risk public safety
Private companies with no record of working in this area given responsibility for supervising serious and violent offenders in the community

While, on the other hand, they’ve allowed prisons to become more squalid, overcrowded and violent – miles away from what we need to rehabilitate criminals
It’s almost as if they’ve given up on doing anything meaningful in prisons, in the hope that a brave, new world of privatised probation will iron out the deep creases of those released from jail

Should I have the privilege of being Justice Secretary in 2015, there won’t be a great inheritance
Money will be very tight for some time to come
That’s why Labour has committed to a zero-based spending review
But we’ll also receive a hospital pass in many other ways
Prisons more overcrowded and violent
A looming crunch on prison capacity
High profile projects this Government has committed the next government to fund, including Wrexham and Feltham prisons and the new Secure College 
A reckless, half-baked probation privatisation 
The challenge will be the greatest for some while, but with very little room for manoeuvre 

That’s why I’m determined Labour will work from first principles
We’ll invest to prevent crime in the first place – housing, education, Sure Start
And to stop offenders going on to commit any more offences
Prisons based on collaboration, with public private and voluntary groups all pulling in the same direction to effectively punish and reform offenders
With prisoners contributing back to society, through restorative justice and community payback, reparation for the harm done through their crimes
To deliver on this, we’ll squeeze every last drop out of the taxpayers’ spend
We’ll be clear what we expect of sentencing, what the guilty will do as part of their punishment, and what will be done to stop criminals re-offending
We’ll look again at effective Intensive Alternatives to Custody, not consign them to the waste bin like the current government 
We’ll build on the success of diversion – taking the fantastic work of the YJB and, if budgets allow, look to expand its remit to older age groups
Identifying other key groups in the system, such as women 
And deliver the National Strategy for Muslims in our prisons – something the current Government has ignored, despite calls for it in 2010 by the Inspectorate

We’ll be clear about what we want our prisons to do
Labour will identify what makes a “good” prison
Because we want our prisons: 
• To recognise they have a role on top of the importance of preventing escapes and disturbances
• To be incentivised at every level to punish AND reform offenders
• To reward good performance and have zero tolerance of failure

And our notion of a “good” prison will be underpinned by five key factors: 
• Strong leadership
• Local partnership
• A professional workforce
• Proper accountability
• Rehabilitation at the core
I want to use the rest of my speech to outline what we’ll do in each of these five areas

George Bernard Shaw said “the most anxious man in a prison is the governor”
We know what he meant!
They sweat about escapes and disturbances and more
On my travels I’ve met good and not so good governors
And one of the characteristics of a good prison has been a governor in place for a decent stretch of time

In my own constituency is Wandsworth Prison
The Governor seems to chop and change more often than Premier League football managers
How can you change the culture in a 160 year old prison if you’re in the post less than a year?

Recently I uncovered data showing 5 prisons have had 4 governors since May 2010
And 24 have had 3 governors 
These aren’t the ingredients that make for good governance

We’ll put a stop to this
Prison governors must be appointed for a period long enough to give them time to stamp their mark 
And this is implicit when they’re appointed
They’ll then know the task ahead of them, and the time they’ve got to deliver improvements
We wouldn’t give a head teacher less than a year to run a school
The same should apply to governors running prisons
We wouldn’t tolerate a school having four head teachers in four years
The same should apply to governors running prisons
Instead, we’ll invest the time and confidence in them to do it

And I think we should go further
I want improved career structures for those running prisons, with better training in place
Good governors should be encouraged to stay in place, not chopped and changed
Specialisms should be nurtured – those good at running women’s prisons, say, or those whose expertise is in the high security estate
I believe prisons would benefit from these changes

And good governors running good prisons should be rewarded with greater freedom
Underperforming prisons could be incentivised to improve with the prospect of these rewards
Inspected prisons that are performing well should have more control over budgets
It should be up to them who they contract to deliver education, training and healthcare in prisons
The current process of outsourcing education, training and healthcare isn’t working
Time and again on prison visits my questions about who’s enforcing the contracts are received by shrugs of shoulders
It’s not good enough that taxpayers’ money is used so inefficiently
Well performing prisons, with strong leadership, are the best level for these contracts to be awarded and enforced 

But there’s a flipside 
Prisons must be on notice that failure won’t be tolerated
In both public and private prisons
I’ve already said I wouldn’t have been so complacent with Oakwood Prison as Chris Grayling has been
I’d haul in the management, and give G4S six months to show signs of improvement otherwise I’d strip them of the prison
I’d do the same to a publicly run prison too – I’d demand improvement, or there’d be change at the top
Only with a strict, zero tolerance of bad performance can we hope to root out failing management and truly turn round our prisons

The second key factor is local partnerships
Prisons should be rooted in their local communities – working with local agencies, charities, companies and other arms of government
More power given to good performing prisons to decide with whom they want to work 
It shouldn’t be the Justice Secretary from Westminster deciding what is best in each prison
Through the gate support of prisoners is fine, but it should be when prisoners are going through the gate on arrival, not out of the gate on departure
Agencies, charities and companies in prisons from the very beginning of sentences, working to up-skill and train prisoners
Sentence plans that are meaningful and carried through
I am determined to resurrect the concept of a working prison, forgotten by the current government 
It’s crucial if we’re to instil a work ethic and give prisoners the skills and confidence they need.

And to back this up I want to explore the idea of prison boards
Each prison governor backed up by key figures from the local area
Local authorities, probation, police, health, education, charities, local employers, and prison staff
All having a shared interest in prisons successfully punishing and reforming prisoners 
Rooting prisons in their local community and bringing in outside expertise
It’s good enough for schools, hospitals and colleges
Why not prisons?
And who knows, good performing prisons could see their boards awarded more powers
Such as allowing them to appoint and advertise for governors, like school governors would do for head teachers.

Leadership is also key in prisons
But also crucial is the rest of the workforce
Thousands of dedicated staff at the coalface in our prisons
I pay tribute to their hard work.
But for many it’s become a de-skilled job 
When, instead, they could be key players in rehabilitating prisoners
Why do we always talk of bringing in experts to deal with education, training and mental health, when we could be using prison better?
I’m determined to restore the workforce’s morale and learn the best lessons from prison systems in other countries where prison staff are skilled up
I’ll sit down with the unions and the prisons service to see how we can raise workforce standards 
And I’m keen to explore the idea suggested to me of a Chartered Institute for prison officers
Accrediting staff, particularly for those with extra responsibilities and competencies
Recognising the professionalism of the workforce
And we’ll consider introducing ‘lead practitioners’ in the crucial areas like anger management, literacy, mental health and drugs

But there’s a quid pro quo
I’ll demand zero tolerance of corruption 
Labour will have a whistleblower hotline, independent of the Prisons Service
We’ll publish facts and figures on misconduct allegations – how many, what happened to the investigation and what sanctions were used against those found guilty 
And in prisons with a serious problem we need tough sanctions 
More searching of staff at the beginning and end of shifts, and even closed family visits
We cannot allow efforts to punish and reform criminals to be undermined by drugs, contraband and mobile phones finding their way into prisons, fuelling a whole world of crime behind bars. 
These bad apples damage the reputation of the overwhelming majority of prison staff who are dedicated and law-abiding
It’s in their interests too that we root out the bad apples

Proper accountability is at the heart of what makes a good prison
Bad performance must be rooted out, exposed and those responsible held to account
Lessons learnt from good practice need to be codified, and spread across the rest of the prisons system
At the core is the work of the Chief Inspector of Prisons
I want to pay tribute to the work of Nick Hardwick and his colleagues
It’s only because of their forensic investigative work that some of the horrors that happen in our prisons are uncovered
Such as drugs being more easily obtainable than soap in Oakwood prison
The forgotten inmate in Lincoln prison, 9 years beyond the end of their sentence
Infestations of vermin and cockroaches in Pentonville, a prison the Inspectorate said should be demolished
But he’s also held up good practice too
Like the Daycare Centre run for the over 50s in Leyhill Prison
And the effective Prisoner Council at Ford.

But I have to be honest
I’m exasperated that the rich inspection reports don’t receive the response they deserve
Their findings and recommendations are designed to improve performance 
Areas of best practice aren’t shared enough or elephant traps from Prison A avoided at Prison B
I want to correct this terribly wasted opportunity
I’ll place a statutory duty on the Ministry of Justice to respond publicly and transparently to reports of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons
With each recommendation addressed, and a published action plan for how the prison plans to respond 
Ministers, prison governors and prison boards might disagree with recommendations, but it’s right they’re made to explain why
Everyone can learn from this process 
The public confident inspection reports are taken seriously
And concrete steps taken to rectify poor performance. 

And I want to go further
I’m worried that the independence of the Chief Inspector isn’t as secure as it should be
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons should be free of the executive, uninhibited by any undue pressure, if it’s to do its job effectively
The UK is a signatory of the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or punishment – known as OPCAT
To really embrace the aims and aspirations of OPCAT, I want to place the inspectorate on a footing independent of ministers
We will, if we win the next election, look at making the Chief Inspector of Prisons independent
This could be directly accountable to Parliament, similar to the Electoral Commission
Or linked in some way to the Justice Select Committee
We will consult widely with those passionate about this issue
And deliver the change we need to guarantee the Chief Inspector has the independence and powers he needs to ensure the inspection regime is one in which the public can always be confident

The fifth factor determining a good prison is rehabilitation at its core
We need to have a better handle on what success looks like, something we can measure, so that we can judge good and bad performances
The government opted for a payment by results model without any proper testing or piloting
I’m convinced we can build a value added measure for prisons – just as we can for school age children
How much has a prison done to help a particular offender address their addictions, their mental health problems, their literacy and numeracy and their skills, and face up to their crime?
With a baseline on arrival in prison, we should be able to keep track of progress
And aggregating up prisoner scores could provide a measure for the whole jail
This would be an added incentive for governors to do more on rehabilitation
And makes the prison system more transparent
I recognise there’s churn within the system, but with the value added measure attached to each prisoner, there must be a way of making this work.
We’ll work with key agencies and stakeholders across the landscape to look at how we can get this to function in practice

I’ve been candid about some of the challenges we’ll face on May 8th 2015
People ask me will I promise to reverse this, or do that.
I’m not going to repeat the Tory mistake of promising what I can't deliver
They said they'd solve the prison problem - but they've made it worse 
They promised control - but they've lost it
A rehabilitation revolution was planned but they've bottled it
So we know they'll leave us a challenge - but we will tread carefully
We'll assess exactly what needs to be done
That’s why I can’t commit to renationalise private prisons
That's why I can't commit to build lots more modern small prisons
And that's why I can’t guarantee we won’t close some prisons
I won't set a target for reducing prison numbers
I can’t promise to deliver everything on terms and conditions that prison staff might want
And I can't say any if it is going to be easy.

But I’ve been around the system, and I know what we can achieve
I can give you the assurance prisons won’t be forgotten under Labour
We won’t be happy with them remaining overcrowded and squalid
We won't settle for failure in public or private prisons
We will strive to turn prisons into engines of work, education and training 
We will work with our staff and train them to deliver what's needed
We’ll do all we can to address drug and alcohol dependencies, and make mental health a high priority
Stopping prisoners going on to commit more crimes has to be central to a Labour, one nation, justice policy
By having prisons that work by putting the emphasis on high quality rehabilitation, we’ll make communities up and down the country safer for everyone.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
The Science & Society Picture Library
Show Hide image

This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.