Boris Johnson has announced £100 million of investment to boost security and cut crime in prisons, warning that jails cannot become “factories for making bad people worse”.
The Prime Minister vowed to cease the flow of drugs, weapons and phones flooding into prisons, in a bid to cut violence inside and ensure sentences reform and rehabilitate.
But Mr Johnson’s latest spending pledge will further fuel speculation that he is preparing for an early general election amid the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.
Violence and drugs in prisons have been in the spotlight in recent times, with prison officers staging a mass walkout last year over safety concerns.
Labour accused the PM of “timidly tinkering at the edges”, saying the money falls short of the sum needed to reverse the damage caused by years of Conservative cuts.
Announcing the pledge, Mr 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, affecting jails in England and Wales, is newly-released from the Treasury and will be immediately available.
The sum will fund an increase in X-ray scanners and metal detectors across the prison estate, and be used to target drug smugglers and kingpins who continue to run their rings from behind bars.
It will also be used to strengthen the corruption unit that identifies dishonest prison staff.
And it will expand technology to detect and block mobiles being used in prisons and to identify those harassing victims or organising drug deals from within prison.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon was critical of the scale of the announcement.
“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,” the Labour MP said.
“Reckless Tory cuts to staffing and budgets unleashed unprecedented levels of violence in our prisons.
“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 re-offending.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Wera Hobhouse said it was a “hollow move” by Mr Johnson which “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,” she said.
“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.”
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC said there is a “direct link” between crime in prison wings and on the streets.
“By disrupting those who continue to offend behind bars, we can keep our staff and other prisoners safe, and make sure that prisons truly fulfill their purpose of protecting the public,” he added.
The spending pledge is the latest in a string of announcements from the PM, each adding to suspicions a general election is looming.
Mr Johnson pledged £2.5 billion to create an extra 10,000 prison places over the weekend and £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Monday.
In recent weeks, the Government has also announced a £1.8 billion cash injection for the NHS and £2.1 billion boost to no-deal Brexit preparations.