Prisons must not be “factories for making bad people worse”, Boris Johnson has warned, as he announced £100m investment to boost security and cut crime in jails.
The prime minister promised to stop drugs, weapons and phones flowing into prisons in England and Wales in a bid to ensure inmates are reformed.
His latest policy pledge comes after a series of others aimed at cracking down on crime, and fuels speculation he is preparing for an early election to break the Brexit deadlock.
Labour said the changes were “timidly tinkering around the edges” and claimed the funds fell far short of what was needed to reverse the damage of years of austerity.
Violence and drugs in prisons have been in the spotlight recently, with prison officers staging a mass walkout last year over safety concerns.
Mr Johnson said the announcement would help “safeguard victims, protect staff, cut violence” and also ensure prisons are “properly equipped to reform” offenders.
The investment will buy more X-ray scanners and metal detectors in jails and strengthen the corruption unit that identifies dishonest prison staff.
And it will pay for more devices to detect and block mobile phones being used in prison.
The money has been released immediately and will be funded by the Treasury, the Ministry of Justice confirmed.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the money would “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,” he warned.
“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.”
Over the weekend, Mr Johnson pledged £2.5bn to create an extra 10,000 prison places and £85m for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Each spending pledge has fuelled talk of a snap general election in the run up to Brexit, which happens by legal default on 31 October.
Lord Heseltine, a former Conservative deputy prime minister who was thrown out of the party for voting Lib Dem in the European parliament elections, accused Mr Johnson of “trashing money” by committing cash for “very clear electoral targets” on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
Mr Johnson has said the “last thing” he wants to do is call a general election.