Six “reform prisons” are to be created in England and Wales as part of a pilot to tackle high levels of violence and re-offending, David Cameron has said.
The governors would have autonomy over their operation and budgets, he said.
The PM also announced new powers to speed up the deportation of foreign inmates and plans for all jails to be assessed through league tables.
Penal charities said reforms would not work if prisoners were “crammed into filthy institutions with no staff”.
Downing Street said the creation of the “reform prisons” from existing jails would happen by the end of the year, although it did not name any locations.
Mr Cameron said “current levels of prison violence, drug-taking and self-harm should shame us all”, with a typical week seeing 600 incidents of self-harm, at least one suicide and 350 assaults including 90 on staff.
In what he described as the “biggest shake-up of prisons since the Victorian era”, he said prisoners should be seen as “potential assets to be harnessed” and the “failure of our system today is scandalous”.
In other developments:
- Ministers will work with network operators to block phone signals to prisons to target the problem of smuggled mobiles being used for criminal purposes
- League tables will be published showing how successful prisons are at cutting reoffending, improving literacy and helping inmates find jobs
- Improved satellite tracking will mean some convicted criminals only spend the weekend in prison
- The processes used to establish free schools could help transform young offenders institutions into secure academies, with a focus on education
- Mr Cameron said he wanted former prisoners to have a better chance of getting a job interview by allowing them to apply for positions without declaring unspent convictions straight away
Ahead of his speech to the Policy Exchange think tank in central London, Mr Cameron was shown around HMP Onley, a category C prison near Rugby, where he met prisoners being trained in bicycle repair and barista skills.
Mr Cameron said the government would accept the recommendations made in Dame Sally Coates’s review of prison education, due to be published soon, including a promise to protect the £130m budget.
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BBC News. (2016). Prisons ‘overhaul’ announced by David Cameron.Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35518477. Last accessed 8th March 2016.