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We were pleased to receive a response from the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland this week to our joint letter with the Howard League of 13 October.

His response is full and quite detailed. It shows that the prison service has made a thorough and genuine attempt to quickly learn the lessons from its initial response to the pandemic in the spring. It has done so not just through its own research but by taking on board what we in our CAPPTIVE reports(1)(2), and many other organisations, have been telling it. No-one is pretending that everything is as we would want it, and the adjusted approach the prison service wants to take now is dependent on staffing and on how the virus progresses in individual prisons and in  the community. But we can point to some significant improvements at least in what the prison service is trying to deliver.

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Commenting on the publication of today’s (28 October) report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on the experiences of rehabilitation and release planning amongst minority ethnic prisoners, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a very thorough, scrupulously evidenced, authoritative report. It shows yet again that you get a worse deal from our criminal justice system if you’re from an ethnic minority. The inspectorate’s main finding is that people from BME groups experience discrimination, but most prison staff do not see it. As the report rightly highlights, practical solutions begin with first, acknowledging the problem; and secondly, involving the people most affected in putting it right, learning from their experience rather than dismissing it.

“The contrast between this devastatingly honest report and the government’s approach to reform couldn’t be more stark. Over and over again, the government’s equality assessments show that its proposals for criminal justice reform are likely to have discriminatory impacts—notably in the recent White Paper on sentencing. But these are always accepted as a price worth paying for some other objective. It’s hardly surprising that trust in the system amongst minority communities is so low.”

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Commenting on the findings of today’s report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The Chief Inspector has issued a stark reminder about the reality of life in our prisons, before as well as during the pandemic. No civilised country should sentence people to imprisonment served largely behind a cell door, with all the damage enforced idleness will do to a person’s mental health and to their prospects of a better life after release. The idea that prisons run better in those circumstances is facile and the Chief Inspector is right to dismiss it.

“Good management can certainly mitigate some of the problems our prison system faces, but it will never solve the fundamental problem of a system coping with too many prisoners. Yet the government seems oblivious to the fact that overcrowding puts lives at risk and undermines every one of its ambitions for a better prison system. It will continue to receive damning reports like this for as long as that inertia continues.”

Click here to download a copy of the report.

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Commenting on the findings of today's report, The Case for Sustainable Funding for Women’s Centres, published by the Women’s Budget Group in collaboration with Women in Prison, Nelson Trust, Together Women, Anawim and Brighton Women’s Centre, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"For some time there has been broad agreement on the right policy solutions for women at risk of needless imprisonment. The government itself has signed up to a strategy that describes most of what needs to be done. But it hasn’t turned words into reality. This detailed and immensely practical report removes any last excuse for not doing so. At a time when the money available to build new prisons and employ more prison staff to run them appears to be without limit, this report doesn’t just make the case for a very modest investment in women’s centres, it describes in detail how to go about it. But time is short—if the government dithers, the organisations it needs to deliver the change it wants may no longer exist."

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A new report from the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative exposes a failing system that leaves thousands of women released from UK prisons with just £46, a plastic bag, nowhere to live and the threat of a return to custody if they miss their probation appointment.

The initiative is a unique collaboration of London Prisons Mission, Prison Reform Trust, the Church of St Martins in the Fields and HMP & YOI Bronzefield. It is calling for urgent action by actors across the criminal justice system to combat failings that result in 6 in 10 women released from prison, many of them suffering from multiple vulnerabilities, without access to safe and secure housing.

The Bishop of Gloucester & Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons, The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick to share the findings of the report and to encourage efforts to improve accommodation support for women leaving prison. You can read a copy of the letter by clicking here

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The Prison Reform Trust and the Howard League for Penal Reform have written to the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland today in the light of the rapidly developing situation in prisons in relation to outbreaks of Covid-19.

The letter calls for greater transparency, to ensure that prisoners and their families are able to understand the basis on which decisions are being taken, including the publication of evidence and advice received by ministers on the risks of transmission in prisons; and the different measures taken to contain the spread of Covid-19.

It also highlights a number of policy decisions which the charities believe could and should be taken now to reassure prisoners and their families about the difficult months ahead.

Click 'read more' to see a copy of our letter and to read the full story

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Lockdown conditions in prisons have effectively ended opportunities for prisoners to take part in rehabilitation activities and progress in their sentences.

For the nearly 11,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (9,000 unreleased; 2,000 recalled), this could lead to them spending significantly longer in prison than they might have otherwise. This is because they may be unable to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they have taken part in activities to reduce their risk.

A further 5,815 people serving extended determinate sentences, whose release is dependent on the Parole Board up until the end of their custodial term, could also find themselves spending longer in prison because of a lack of access to rehabilitation.

The uncertainty is leading to increasing despair and hopelessness and putting a significant strain on the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners, already suffering as a result of lockdown conditions, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

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Commenting on the publication of today’s (16 September) Sentencing White Paper by the Ministry of Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: 

“This tired set of proposals reheats the failed policies of so many previous governments. Sentencing has been getting tougher for three decades, with no impact on either crime or public confidence. All it guarantees is an overcrowded prison system that makes it harder for the people it holds to build a crime free future. 

“Talking tough is a good way to distract attention from a criminal justice system in collapse, failing both victims and offenders. People wait months, even years, for cases to be heard, then at the end of a jail term prisoners leave prison with nowhere to live. There’s nothing smart about rehashing punitive rhetoric and hoping for a different outcome. It’s a missed opportunity.”

Peter has written a more detailed response to the white paper for iNews which you can read by clicking here.

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Over half of employers would feel more confident hiring people with sexual convictions if they had access to management advice, or if they believed that the applicant wouldn’t reoffend, a joint report by the Prison Reform Trust and Unlock reveals.

Almost half of employers surveyed would be reassured by knowing the person would be under strict probation supervision, and over a third if they believed that other workers would accept them.

Thinking Differently, written by Dr Mia Harris, Dr Rachel Tynan and Dr Kimmett Edgar, explores employers’ attitudes towards hiring people convicted of sexual offences. Its findings are based on a survey of employers and interviews with prison resettlement officers, employers, charities and other professionals.

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Today the Prison Reform Trust published a letter it has received from the Secretary of State to Justice Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP QC regarding video calls in prison.

Responding to concerns raised by the Prison Reform Trust of the risk that video calls might become a substitute for face-to-face visits, the Secretary of State provides an assurance that “it is absolutely not the intention that video calling will be a substitute for face-to-face visits. Where face-to-face visits can safely be delivered and remain the preference, no prisoner should be asked to substitute that for a video call.”

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