Boris Johnson has pledged to spend a further £100m on improving prison security in a move quickly dismissed as bravado.
The money will go toward airport-style technology, including X-ray scanners and metal detectors, to prevent drugs, weapons and mobile phones getting into jails, and strengthening the Counter Corruption Unit. The spending is in addition to £70m announced last year for the same purpose.
The pace of announcements and the populist nature of the policies have fuelled speculation that the prime minister is planning an imminent general election.
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson, said: “This is yet another hollow move by Boris Johnson to seem tough on crime, but yet again fails to tackle the causes of crime. The further funding announced is still not being used to rehabilitate people to stop them committing crimes in the first place.
“Boris Johnson can lock people up for longer or search people on their way in and out of prison, but none of this bravado will actually make our streets safer. Instead of just talking tough, it’s time Boris Johnson looked at the evidence in front of him.”
The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon said: “These measures fall woefully short of what is needed to make our prisons safe. Faced with a prisons emergency caused by austerity, Boris Johnson is timidly tinkering at the edges.
“Reckless Tory cuts to staffing and budgets unleashed unprecedented levels of violence in our prisons. The Tories have slashed the prisons budget by hundreds of millions of pounds and there are still thousands fewer prison officers than when they came to power. Our prisons have too few staff to safely manage the existing prison population, never mind any planned expansion.
“Boris Johnson should set out a detailed plan and provide proper funding to ensure that our prisons have the staffing and resources needed to focus on rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.”
Johnson pledged £2.5bn to create an extra 10,000 prison places over the weekend and £85m for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Monday. In recent weeks, the government has also announced a £1.8bn cash injection for the NHS and a £2.1bn boost to no-deal Brexit preparations.
Johnson said: “We cannot allow our prisons to become factories for making bad people worse. We will stop the drugs, weapons and the mobile phones coming in, so we can safeguard victims, protect staff, cut violence and make our prisons properly equipped to reform and rehabilitate.”
The Ministry of Justice said the funding was newly released from the Treasury and would be immediately available.
The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said: “There is a direct link between crime on the wings and crime on our streets. It can no longer be assumed that prison walls are enough to stop organised criminals from continuing their operations.
“This funding will have a transformative effect on prisons and give our hard-working officers the advantage as they tackle this scourge head on. By disrupting those who continue to offend behind bars, we can keep our staff and other prisoners safe, and make sure that prisons truly fulfil their purpose of protecting the public.”
The previous justice secretary, David Gauke, oversaw a shift in tone in the government’s approach to prisons, focusing more on rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.
An education and employment strategy was published during his tenure, which focused on the benefits of work and training in reducing reoffending, and Gauke advocated for a move away from short-term prison sentences of six months or less.
Johnson’s new tough-on-crime drive threatens to undo some of this work, and reports suggest the prime minister will not scrap short sentences.