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The government should follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a presumption against short prison sentences as part of their efforts to restore safety and stability to our struggling jails according to a new briefing, Prison: the facts, published today by the Prison Reform Trust.

The briefing reveals the current scale of the challenge facing the government, with hundreds of people flowing in and out of the prison system on short sentences every week, placing pressure on an already overstretched and overcrowded prison system.

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PRT comment: HMP Wandsworth

13/07/2018 00:01:00

Commenting on today's HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on HMP Wandsworth, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“For decades Wandsworth prison has looked after the very short stay prisoners—many of them unconvicted—that ministers now recognise should not be in prison at all. That does not excuse the terrible conditions which the Chief Inspector describes, but it does show where the solution lies. The government must turn its aspiration to make prison a last resort into reality.

“In the meantime, there is no choice but to invest in the people and physical environment that this report shows are urgently needed. No-one—least of all people still waiting to be tried—should be expected to live in such dismal and dangerous surroundings.”

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Commenting on today's Annual Report, published by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The findings of this report put Britain to shame. We should not tolerate a situation in a civilised society where thousands of prisoners are forced to share cells designed for one, eating their meals next to an unscreened toilet; where violence and self-harm have risen exponentially ; and where a fifth of prisoners spend less than two hours a day out of their cell.

“The heart of the problem is that we use prison too much. Solving that means reserving custody for only the most serious and violent offenders. Ministers have rightly said they want to follow the evidence and stop the pointless use of futile short prison sentences for less serious crime. They now need to back that up with statutory and operational measures that will deliver the change they want to see.”

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Commenting on today’s speech by David Gauke at the Centre for Social Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“David Gauke has set out a balanced and pragmatic approach to prison reform. He rightly starts by insisting that prison really should be a last resort and the futile imprisonment of short sentenced prisoners should end.

“£7m for in-cell phones in 20 prisons is a concrete and significant investment, which should pave the way for a national roll out. New measures to identify trouble makers need careful scrutiny to avoid perpetuating discriminatory treatment based on untested evidence.

“Getting the detail right will depend on listening to the people who live and work in prison—especially as the minister develops his plans for incentives that will change behaviour.”

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Children are often devastated when their mum is sent to prison but their interests are rarely considered by a justice system which is blind to their needs, a new report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) reveals.

For most children, their mother is their primary carer. Every year an estimated 17,000 children experience their mum being sent to prison. Last year, 83% of women sentenced to prison had committed a non-violent crime and 62% were serving a sentence of six months or less.

The report shows that a mother’s imprisonment not only damages the child’s relationship with her, but can affect every area of their lives, including their housing, education, health, and well-being.

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The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon. David Gauke MP, set out in a speech delivered last week (Thursday 21 June 2018) how the government is improving outcomes for people with mental health problems and other needs caught up in the criminal justice system.

Speaking at the 2018 reception of the Care not Custody Coalition he set out the significant progress made since the inception of the Coalition in 2011.

The Care not Custody Coalition also published a briefing at the event, bringing together the array of work by coalition members, and progress made to date.

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Commenting on the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s female offender strategy today (27 June 2018), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The strategy is welcome recognition of the futility of short prison sentences for women whose offending is often driven by abusive relationships or unmet mental health needs. The strategy recognises that many women are victims of more serious crimes than those they are accused of, and contains many positive promises of change. But it has not provided the resource to deliver that change, and no timetable to drive it.

“If the Government turns its good intentions into action, many thousands of women and families, including victims, will benefit. That work must start immediately.”

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The House of Commons will begin to formally scrutinise the Offensive Weapons Bill this Wednesday (27 June) as it holds its second reading debate.

In preparation, the Prison Reform Trust has produced a short briefing for MPs, highlighting concerns about the proposals to introduce new and modified existing offences, as well as the expansion of mandatory sentences.

There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. But experience suggests that solutions are most likely to lie in better regulation and control of supply and increased investment in preventative measures, including early intervention, education, trauma-informed and public health responses.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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Commenting on today's House of Commons Justice Committee report on Transforming Rehabilitation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"This very comprehensive report makes many practical recommendations for change. One of them would immediately transform the operating context, regardless of contractual measures or organisational change. The committee unanimously recommends a statutory presumption against custodial sentences of under 12 months. At a stroke this would drastically reduce the short term ‘through the gate’ caseload where the government's own evidence shows that expensive failure is more or less guaranteed. Experience in Scotland shows that a presumption of this kind actually delivers the change ministers have already said they want in principle. They should seize the moment and get on with it."

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