Commenting on the prisons and courts bill, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
"A statutory commitment to a system that rehabilitates is crucial to building safer communities. But the key task for legislation is to ensure that prisons are places in which that ambition can actually be realised. No future government should be allowed to preside over the decline in safety, decency and fairness that we have seen in recent years. Achieving that will require a commitment to minimum standards, a clear statement of the responsibilities of prisons to those in their care, an independent prisons inspectorate appointed by and accountable to parliament, and a sustained effort to reduce chronic levels of overcrowding and curb sentence inflation."
We have submitted a very detailed response to the inspectorate's consultation on a new expectations for male prisoners document. In the absence of a modern statutory penal code, these expectations are perhaps the most important protection prisoners have for their fundamental rights. Our response draws attention to the risk that the new expectations could be interpreted as optional, and something to which prisons should aspire, rather than a statement of basic standards which all prisons should be expected to meet. We also make clear that commenting on leadership and management must never undermine the core judgement about whether the prison is delivering what it should for the people who live in it. A prison can be well led but still produce poor outcomes if the context in which it operates is wrong. That context is normally the responsibility of ministers, and inspection must hold them to account just as much as it does governors and the new prison and probation agency.
Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, has responded to the Justice Secretary Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's speech on prison reform to the Centre for Social Justice with a letter published today in The Times newspaper.
Sir, Your leader hits a whole series of nails on their heads. Setting arbitrary limits on the prison population is not the issue. Eliminating overcrowding is. It represents the corrosion at the heart of our prisons, undermining decency, safety and rehabilitation. And no government in living memory has made a dent in it, probably because none has thought it worth having a strategy to do so.
Among all the many aspirations to emerge since the crisis in our prisons was finally acknowledged by Michael Gove and now Liz Truss, there is an echoing void where a timetabled plan to eliminate overcrowding should be. In the short term, the pressure can eased by not sending people to prison who need help not punishment, preventing the recall of people to prison on technical grounds, and by reversing the decline in early release on electronic tags. Longer term, we need to rethink how we punish more serious crime, restoring discretion to the courts and hope to the prisoners whose lives we seek to change.
This week the Prison Reform Trust will be hosting a roundtable event to discuss the learning from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) Prison Reform Fellowships. From 2010–2015, the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust funded Travelling Fellowships with a particular focus on prison reform across the world. The Fellowships are the result of an innovative partnership between WCMT and the Prison Reform Trust. The meeting will focus on the findings of two recently published briefings, authored by Jessica Jacobson and Helen Fair of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Birkbeck, University of London, which highlight some of the learning from these Fellowships in maintaining contact between prisoners and their families and problem-solving approaches to criminal justice. Attendees include WCMT fellows, senior policymakers and practitioners. For more information please contact Justin Elder firstname.lastname@example.org