Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said that Britain’s prisons are facing an “urgent crisis” – but that the Government’s efforts at reform are “a cause for hope”.

The cardinal was speaking the day before the Justice Secretary Liz Truss unveiled plans to invest £1.3 billion in prisons over the next five years.

The Archbishop of Westminster told an audience of chaplains, MPs and peers: “Unprecedented and rapidly escalating levels of suicide and self-harm, assaults on staff, violence including murder; yet we know that better prisons are possible and the Government’s commitment to prison reform is a true cause for hope. We do need courageous improvement in sentencing, education, staffing, health services, family contact and pastoral care.”

The cardinal was speaking at a CSAN parliamentary reception to launch the bishops’ new vision for prison reform, entitled The Right Road.

He said: “Our society is failing prisoners and prisons are failing our society. Even more than before a bold and serious programme of prison reform is needed. Many of our prisons are more overcrowded and dangerous than at any point in recent history … Far too often prisons are places of despair rather than places of redemption … The Church has a great deal to contribute in this endeavour.”

Government plans, set out in a White Paper, include 2,100 extra officers, drug tests and more autonomy for governors.

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