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The report published today (14 June 2019) by the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommends that the government should consider the proposal made by the Prison Reform Trust and Criminal Bar Association for a statutory defence to be introduced to protect those whose offending is driven by domestic abuse.

Commenting, Dr Jenny Earle, Transforming Lives Programme Director at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“We are delighted with this important recommendation by the joint committee. Well over half of women in prison report that they are victims of domestic abuse and the true figure is likely to be much higher. The government has acknowledged the mounting evidence of domestic abuse as an underlying factor in many women’s offending, yet the law provides no effective defence for those facing prosecution in these circumstances. The government should seize this opportunity to strengthen protection and deter prosecution of women who may have been victims of more serious offences than those for which they are commonly imprisoned.”

For more information, see the Prison Reform Trust’s report "There’s a reason we’re in trouble": Domestic Abuse as a Driver to Women’s Offending.

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Commenting on today’s announcement (13 June 2019) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, that an Urgent Notification has been issued to justice secretary David Gauke over conditions at HMP Bristol, Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“It is shocking that a prison in special measures since 2017 remains in such a state of decline that the chief inspector feels he has no other option but to issue the justice secretary with an urgent notification. This is the fifth notification raised since the provision was introduced—all of them against local establishments such as Bristol which hold some of the most vulnerable prisoners on the estate, often for just days and weeks at a time. Curbing the use of ineffective short sentences, as the justice secretary has promised to do, would go some way to taking the pressure off these overstretched front line establishments.”

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Commenting on today’s announcement (28 May 2019) by the Ministry of Justice on the introduction of new changes to release on temporary licence (ROTL), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a welcome step in the right direction. More than three years after it was first promised, the government has finally delivered a significant shift towards the greater use of temporary release (ROTL), recognising its proven benefits in terms of preparing prisoners for a crime free life. Prisoners, employers, families and the public at large will all benefit from these changes, building on an exceptional track record of success. There is much further to go—prisoners are serving longer sentences than ever before, and these changes will mainly benefit only the minority who have managed to get to an open prison towards the very end of their time inside. Ministers should not wait a further three years before taking the next step."

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Commenting on the HM Inspectorate of Probation report on Post-release supervision for short-term prisoners: the work undertaken by Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The chief inspector could not be clearer in her assessment of the failure of compulsory post-release supervision for short sentenced prisoners. While the reforms appear to have had no discernible impact on reoffending, recall rates have rocketed, disrupting lives and placing unnecessary pressure on an already overcrowded and overstretched prison system. Since its introduction, recall rates for men have increased by 29%, while for women they have risen by a shocking 166%.

“The justice secretary has signalled his willingness to follow the evidence by bringing offender management back into the public sector. He should now follow the advice of his chief inspector by ending the unfair and disproportionate mandatory supervision of short sentenced prisoners. Delivering on his aim of abolishing short prison sentences altogether would be the best and simplest solution. He also needs to persuade his colleagues around the cabinet table to invest in the housing, health and welfare support that could actually make the difference in reoffending rates that has so obviously eluded the government so far.”

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Commenting on today’s announcement (17 May) by the Scottish Government that an affirmative order has been published to extend the existing presumption from three to 12 months, Alex Hewson, Senior Policy and Communications Officer at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Today’s announcement is a welcome step in reducing our reliance on ineffective short prison sentences. It’s grounded in the evidence, and is a critical part of wider efforts to deliver more effective responses to crime that benefit society, and those convicted. The Scottish Government’s approach recognises that success depends on sustained investment in effective and credible alternatives to custody and services that help people to turn their lives around. Whilst Ministers in England and Wales continue to consider the introduction of a similar scheme, Scotland moves one step further ahead.”

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Commenting on today’s announcement (16 May) by the Ministry of Justice that National Probation Service will take over responsibility for all offender management, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“David Gauke’s pragmatism offers hope that the damage done to the probation system by his predecessor can eventually be repaired. Courts are crying out for a simpler system in which they can have confidence. In legislating to make these sensible changes, the Justice Secretary should take the opportunity to implement his policy to abolish pointless  short custodial sentences. He can bring to an end the nonsense of people being subject to compulsory post release supervision, which has led to an explosion in the number of people recalled to custody but done nothing to reduce re-offending.”

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Women with learning disabilities are at risk of becoming drawn into the criminal justice system due to failures to recognise their disability and a lack of appropriate support, according to a new report published today by the Prison Reform Trust, produced in collaboration with KeyRing Living Support Networks.

The report, Out of the Shadows, draws on the experiences of 24 women with learning disabilities in contact with, or on the edges of, the criminal justice system; and practitioners working within criminal justice, social care, and women’s services. Abuse by men lay behind the offending behaviour of most of the participating women.

The report gives a voice to women with learning disabilities, enabling them to talk about their experiences. This includes not understanding the implications of their behaviour and failure to comply with imposed sanctions; their histories as victims of violent and abusive behaviour; and enforced separation from their children, bewilderment and a sense of injustice.

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A new analysis of court data published today by the Prison Reform Trust has found significant variations in imprisonment rates for women between police force areas in England and Wales.

The average imprisonment rate for women in England is 30 per 100,000, and in Wales 48 per 100,000.

Cleveland has the highest imprisonment rate in England and Wales at 67 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 this region saw an increase of 22% in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

By contrast, Greater Manchester, where there is a co-ordinated strategy involving the local authority, police diversion, a problem solving court and women’s support services, has an imprisonment rate of 25 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 it saw a decrease of 33% in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

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Commenting on the latest Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody Statistics published today (25 April), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“These numbers show that there is a very long way to go before our prison system is safe for the people who live and work in it. The rise in self-inflicted deaths is especially concerning.

“Everyone will hope that the modest improvement in both self-harm and assault figures in the most recent quarter may be the start of a trend, although it is far too early to say. But it would be a mistake, when a change may have started to happen, to put that at risk. Rolling out the deployment of PAVA spray to all prison officers will undermine the relationships between staff and prisoners on which all aspects of safety ultimately depend.”

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Everyone knows that violence in prison has got much, much worse over the last 5 years or so. The statistics are alarming – every quarterly publication describes a new record level of assaults against both prisoners and staff. Violence is both more frequent and more severe. It’s not surprising that people in prison, whether they live there or work there, say “something must be done”.

Writing for the prison newspaper Inside Time, Prison Reform Trust Director, Peter Dawson examines the case for a rethink on the introduction of PAVA spray.

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