Progress in reducing chronic levels of overcrowding and improving treatment and conditions in prisons has been set back by the reluctance of politicians “to explain to the public the limited improvements that can be achieved by greater reliance on more and longer imprisonment,” Lord Woolf, chair of the Prison Reform Trust, said at a lecture at Inner Temple Hall this evening (1 April).
Lord Woolf chaired the original inquiry into the Strangeways riot which occurred 25 years ago today on 1 April 1990.
You can either listen to or read a copy of his full speech by clicking 'read more'.
Twenty five years after the Strangeways riot began on 1 April 1990, chronic overcrowding driven by a near doubling of the prison population over the past two decades continues to undermine standards of decency in prisons and restrict opportunities for rehabilitation, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust.
Lord Woolf’s subsequent inquiry into the causes of the disturbances constituted a wide-ranging examination of conditions in Britain’s prisons and represents the most important analysis of the penal system for the past 100 years.
Strangeways 25 years on: achieving fairness and justice in our prisons, assesses progress made against Lord Woolf’s 12 main recommendations for a more fair and just prison system. It says that many of the factors which contributed to the unrest have resurfaced today. Although the Prison Service is better able today to ensure control and security, this has threatened to set back decades of painstaking progress it has made to improve treatment and conditions.
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Commenting on the Justice Committee’s report on Prison: planning and policies, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“Written in moderate terms, this devastating report is a powerful indictment of this government’s complacent and dismissive attitude to rapidly deteriorating standards and safety in our prisons over the last two years. Soaring levels of violence, a one hundred percent increase in acts of concerted indiscipline, shocking rates of suicide and self-harm, chronic and growing overcrowding, a slump in purposeful activity, dangerously low staffing levels and plummeting staff morale reveal a prison service under unprecedented strain. There is a threshold beneath which it is no longer possible to maintain a safe and decent environment. This report reveals that we are at that threshold.
“The Justice Committee offers footholds for a fresh and effective approach to prison policy and planning. Re-evaluating the use of prison and alternatives to custody would enable an incoming government to end the one-size-fits-all model of prison building and introduce smaller units for women and young people; pay proper attention to an aging prison population; and improve resettlement through better application of technology and the sensible use of release on temporary licence and the open estate. A decent, humane prison system must be underpinned by an experienced and valued workforce, proper discretion for prison governors, an end to ministerial interference in operational matters and a truly independent prisons inspectorate accountable directly to Parliament.
“An incoming administration in May 2015 must not accept this deterioration in prison standards and conditions as the new normal. Restoring prison to its proper function as an important place of last resort in a balanced justice system is the basis on which to create a just, fair and effective penal system.”
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Commenting on today’s (10 March) Prisons and Probation Ombudsman report into self-inflicted deaths of prisoners 2013/14, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
"People are sent to prison to lose their liberty, not their lives. Despite significant efforts by staff over the last decade to tackle suicides and self-harm it appears that this good work is in danger of being undermined and driven backwards. The Ombudsman’s report shows that the good work of first night centres and thought through induction procedures must be maintained and developed, not discarded. The Ministry of Justice should conduct an urgent review to ensure that prisons don’t slide into pits of hopelessness and despair. Lessons must be learned once and for all from this tragic rise in deaths in custody."
Download a copy of the report by clicking here.