Bedfordshire to pilot '˜weekend only' prison system

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A new pilot project will see some prison inmates in Bedfordshire released back into the community during the week as part of what is being described as '˜the biggest shake-up of Britain's prison system since the Victorian era'.

The biggest shake-up of Britain’s prison system since the Victorian era is at the heart of the Queen’s Speech today, Wednesday May 18.

As art of the ‘shake-up’ it is suggested that, from September, some prisoners become weekend inmates and spend the rest of the week at home as they hold down jobs.

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Satellite tracking tags will monitor the movements of offenders using GPS technology.

The scheme will be piloted in eight police areas - Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, West Midlands and Hertfordshire.

Figures will be gathered on areas such as prisoner education, reoffending and employment on release.

The move follows plans for new prison league tables outlined earlier this year by David Cameron as he unveiled a broad package of penal reforms.

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It will see the first six semi-autonomous “reform prisons” announced. One of Europe’s biggest jails, HMP Wandsworth, is among the half dozen institutions where governors will be given sweeping new powers over all key areas of management.

More than 5,000 inmates at the jails - which also include HMP Holme House in County Durham, HMP Kirklevington Grange in North Yorkshire, HMP Coldingley and HMP High Down in Surrey, and HMP Ranby in Nottinghamshire - will be ruled over by the new regime.

Under the Prisons and Courts Reform Bill, governors will be given “unprecedented freedom”. They will have the power to enter into contracts and establish their own boards with external expertise.

The Bill also sets out a commitment to close “old and inefficient” jails and build new institutions.

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Ministers previously announced plans to shut old Victorian prisons, with only HMP Holloway in north London confirmed as facing closure so far.

Jonathan Clifton, of the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, said: “David Cameron is right to try and reform our prisons - which are overflowing, ineffective and dangerous.

“Giving more autonomy and responsibility to prison governors is a welcome move - but it is what happens outside the prison gates that really counts. It is no surprise that the reoffending rate is high when so many prisoners are released straight into homelessness.

“These reforms will only be successful if the Government is able to reinvest money from the prison system into community-based services that help to keep offenders out of trouble in the first place.”

Measures to modernise the courts system are also set to be brought forward.