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A chronic shortage of housing support for women released from custody is driving them back to prison, according to a report published today by the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison.

Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system, found that while in-prison housing support should be an integral part of preparing for release, it is often last-minute, with some women unsure on the morning of their release if they will have accommodation that evening.

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Commenting on the urgent notification issued today (31 May 2018) by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) over safety concerns at HMP Exeter, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Exeter prison is a grossly overcrowded prison where most prisoners are either not convicted at all or are serving short sentences. So David Gauke’s response to this urgent notification from the Chief Inspector should start by saying how he will give effect to the new policy direction he set out last weekend. He rightly wants to replace short prison sentences with community penalties that his own research show to be more effective at cutting crime. Turning that wish into reality is the most important thing he can do to stop the rot in Exeter and many other prisons like it.”

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Commenting on the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s education and employment strategy today (24 May 2018), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is a welcome strategy full to the brim with good intentions. It could make a big difference to the families and communities to which prisoners return on release.

“But almost none of those good intentions set a date for when they will be delivered, or how many people will benefit. We have heard many of these promises before.

“So the government must take this opportunity to show it means business. It must deliver a National Insurance holiday for employers, not just consider it. It must get thousands more prisoners into workplace release on temporary licence, not just consult about it. And it needs to say how many more prisoners will end up with a job when all these good intentions have turned into reality.”

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Whilst there has been a welcome reduction in the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison over the last year, figures published last month show that all other safety indicators are once again set records for all the wrong reasons.

Record levels of self-harming; record levels of assaults on prisoners; and record levels of assaults on staff show that violence and fear is the daily reality for many people in prison.

Dr Kimmett Edgar, the Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Research, a specialist in violence and conflict resolution in prisons, has produced a guide for staff and officials to help them to develop much needed strategies for violence reduction in our prisons. This guide builds on a speech he delivered to the Prison Safety and Reform team at the Ministry of Justice last month.

Conflict resolution needs to be placed at the centre of prison strategies to reduce violence. Doing so would empower governors, officers and prisoners in their efforts to make prisons safer.

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PRT comment: HMP Nottingham

16/05/2018 00:01:00

Commenting on today’s inspection report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This report shames us as a nation. It speaks of a fundamental failure to administer justice in a civilised way.

“But it is not an isolated example. Between 2013 and 2017, 1,364 people died in prison in England and Wales. 447 of those took their own life, and 21 were killed by a fellow prisoner. Nottingham prison is symptomatic of a disastrous political decision to slash resources from a chronically overcrowded prison system. Local failures must be rigorously exposed, as the Chief Inspector and Ombudsman rightly have done, and must be put right. But it was a political decision that broke the prison system and it will take political leadership to fix it. That must start with using prison less—it is time for ministers to step up.”

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Following a meeting of the Prison Reform Trust’s Care not Custody programme, and subsequent correspondence with Sir Simon Wessely, chair of the Mental Health Act independent review, it was agreed that the Centre for Mental Health, Prison Reform Trust and Together for Mental Health would convene a small expert round table seminar to discuss criminal justice concerns as they relate to the Mental Health Act.
 
A seminar, chaired by Lord Bradley, was held on 10 January, and a consultation response was submitted on 17 January. Our response can be read by clicking here.
 
At a follow up meeting with Sir Simon, we were asked if we would repeat the exercise with a specific focus on learning disability and autism, and a second seminar was held on 18 April; our response can be read by clicking here.

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Prison governors should be encouraged to empty prison wings during the day and get far more prisoners out on temporary release to engage in work, training and education in the community, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) says.

As part of its forthcoming employment strategy for prisoners, the government should introduce a radical approach to using release on temporary licence (ROTL) at scale across the prison estate. This would be a huge incentive to good behaviour in prison as well as an effective aid to resettlement, the briefing suggests.

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PRT comment: HMYOI Feltham A

09/05/2018 00:01:00

Commenting on today’s inspection report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
 
“This is an encouraging report. As the Chief Inspector notes, there have been false dawns before in difficult prisons, and it is crucial that progress at Feltham continues. But there is much for the rest of prison estate to learn from this report, especially in relation to safety. The improvement at Feltham is down to an approach that focuses on incentives for good behaviour, and resolving conflict before it turns into violence. Ministers should step back from plans in the adult estate to equip staff with more weapons, escalating the risk of violence rather than reducing it.”

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Today's edition of the Guardian (3 May) reported that the Ministry of Justice has postponed the publication of its long awaited strategy for women offenders, according to a Whitehall source. The story was also covered by BBC Radio 4's World at One.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, to seek clarification and reassurance that the strategy will be published before Parliament's summer recess.

Click read more to view a copy of the letter and to read Peter's full comment

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