Tuesday 30 April 2013 by Catherine Baksi

Reforms to prison privileges announced by the justice secretary today have been condemned as 'cheap shots' to 'whip up prejudice' and create a 'smokescreen' to detract from legal aid cuts.

The chair of the Association of Prison Lawyers, Andrew Sperling, questioned why Chris Grayling had decided to involve himself in the question of the incentives and earnings scheme for prisoners when there are 'more pressing' issues for him to deal with.

Sperling said: 'There is, as he should know, no proven link whatsoever between a more austere environment in prison and the reduction of reoffending. It is depressing that the justice secretary has descended to making cheap shots about uniforms and TVs in cells rather than focusing his efforts upon things that actually matter.'

Sperling suggested the announcement was a 'smokescreen' to divert attention from the debate about legal aid changes. 'It's a non-story that is merely playing to the gallery and to Daily Mail readers.'

He said that many prisoners want to do something constructive while they are in custody to improve their lives and help to put in place sensible plans for their release.

But he said those efforts are hampered by policies that 'undermine the probation service, demoralise staff who work in prisons and reduce access to lawyers and access to justice for prisoners'.

In today's announcement, Grayling said that prisoners will have to work harder for privileges such as having TVs in their cells and using the gym. Newly convicted prisoners and those returning on licence will have to wear uniform for their first two weeks and privileges including access to private cash will be restricted.

In order to get privileges, prisoners will have to co-operate with the prison regime or engage in rehabilitation.

Convicted prisoners will have to work a longer day, certificate-18 DVDs will be banned and subscription channels removed from private prisons that currently permit them.

The changes will be implemented over the next six months.

Grayling said: 'It is not right that some prisoners appear to be spending hours languishing in their cells and watching daytime television while the rest of the country goes out to work.

'Prisoners need to earn privileges, not simply through the avoidance of bad behaviour but also by working, taking part in education or accepting the opportunities to rehabilitate themselves.'

Sperling said: 'Public confidence is not served by pandering to and whipping up prejudice. It is served when ministers take the time to understand and talk about the more complex business of why people end up in prison and what can be done to ensure they do not keep going back.'

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