Prison Reform Trust staff regularly write articles for online and print publications, you can read them here.
The complaints system within prisons is the main recourse you have for raising and resolving treatment which you think has been unfair or at odds with the prison rules and instructions. Despite this, we are sometimes surprised by how little some people know about how the complaints system should work.
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I recently had the pleasure of meeting with groups of older male prisoners to discuss the matters that are most pressing to their age group in custody. As ever, it was a valuable opportunity to get the views of people at the centre of our work.
One concern quickly and overwhelmingly stood out amongst those raised. There were wide-ranging reports that responses to medical emergencies were so poor that prisoners, particularly those who are older and have pre-existing health issues, were left with genuine fear for their lives.
Our advice and information service receives over 6,000 contacts a year from people with a variety of prison related questions and concerns. However, only a small number of these contacts come from prisoners held in the female estate. In 2015 we received 154 enquiries from women which amounted to less than 2.5% of all enquiries received. With women accounting for about 5% of the total prison population in England and Wales, currently at around 3,800, it is clear that women are underrepresented in our service.
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Michael Gove, in his evidence to the House of Commons justice select committee in March, stated that time spent by prisoners out of their cells could be one of a number of key indicators introduced to measure prison performance. This would be a welcome move and an important acknowledgement of the valuable contribution time out of cell makes to improving the quality of prison life.
Our advice and information service often hears from people wanting to know how many hours a day they should be allowed out their cell, whether association should be during particular hours or how much time they should get in the open air. There is little surprise that being stuck behind a cell door for hours per day has become the increasing experience of life in prison for many.
Our Advice and Information service often receives enquiries about loss or damage of prisoners’ property. Problems seem to occur particularly around cell clearances and transfers. This is echoed by a useful ‘Learning Lessons Bulletin’ produced by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman in 2014 regarding property complaints which reports that three-fifths of the upheld investigations in response to property complaints came as a result of prisoner movement.
This February it will have been a year since the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 (ORA) introduced mandatory community supervision for prisoners on short sentences. In my most recent visit to a resettlement prison, it was apparent that many people still do not fully understand how the changes impact on them after they are released.
The latest sky-high reoffending figures should convince justice secretary Michael Gove of the need to prioritise rehabilitation in his plans for prison reform. Often overlooked is the role of businesses and charities, which provide volunteering and work placement for prisoners on temporary release in the community.
Following the publication of a joint briefing by the Prison Reform Trust and Clinks, PRT's head of policy and communications, Mark Day takes a look at the important role that release on temporary licence plays in helping people to prepare for life on the outside.
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