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In her annual speech to both houses of parliament, Queen Elizabeth unveiled what is touted as the “biggest prison shake-up of the prison system since Victorian times.” The prison population in the UK has ballooned in recent decades, and the Conservative government is taking major steps to reform the system.
The reforms entail creating new, modern prisons that will be autonomously managed by their wardens, the Queen said:
Prison governors will be given unprecedented freedom and they will be able to ensure prisoners receive better education. Old and inefficient prisons will be closed and new institutions built where prisoners can be put more effectively to work.
Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement that prisons “no longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed.” Among other things, prisoners will get more access to technology. A report commissioned by the government recommends that prisoners be given secure tablets to help with their education and videoconferencing options to keep in touch with their families.
Recidivism rates in the UK are high, and the new reforms, which focus on rehabilitation, education, and prison work, aim to reduce them.
Depending on how these reforms are implemented, the UK could be inching ahead of the US. Some American prison communications companies are experimenting with tablets, but the services often come at a high cost to the prisoner and their family. The same applies to videoconferencing, which has become widespread in US prisons and jails, but in many ways is just another tool to disenfranchise inmates.