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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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Commenting on the Justice Committee's report Prison Population 2022: Planning for the Future, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This thorough report represents a welcome outbreak of cross party common sense about a complex problem. It should lay to rest once and for all the idea that governments can build their way out of the prisons crisis. And it rightly focuses on the need to implement ambitious policies rather than just announce more of them.

“There is unanimous endorsement of the government’s wish to abolish pointless short prison sentences. The committee also supports the justice secretary’s call for a bigger public conversation about how we punish the most serious crime.

“There could not be a more comprehensive demolition of our national obsession with imprisonment, fed by governments of all colours for more than two decades. The current government’s response must now recognise the need for fundamental change.”

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Home Office proposals to create knife crime prevention orders, which are due to be debated by MPs for the first time on Tuesday 26 March, could criminalise thousands of children who are themselves victims of slavery, trafficking or criminal exploitation.

A joint briefing by the Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, sent to MPs ahead of the House of Commons debate, warns that there are insufficient safeguards built into the proposed legislation to ensure that the full circumstances of the child are taken into account by the police applying for the orders and the court before an order is imposed.

As well as unnecessarily criminalising vulnerable children, this could lead to inappropriate restrictions being imposed which could place the child at increased risk of neglect or abuse.

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Earlier this month the UN Committee on Women (CEDAW) published its latest report on progress in achieving women’s equality in the UK.  The UN Committee welcomed the UK Government’s “first female offender strategy in June 2018 to divert the most vulnerable women in the criminal justice system away from custody through the provision of tailored support in England and Wales.” However, reflecting concerns expressed by Prison Reform Trust and others, the Committee recommended that the UK government allocate sufficient resources to effectively implement the Female Offender Strategy; continue to develop alternative sentencing and custodial strategies, including community interventions and services, for women convicted of minor offences; and take further measures to improve the provision of mental health care in all prisons, taking into account the particular needs of women.

Welcoming the United Nations CEDAW Committee’s conclusions, PRT Transforming Lives programme director Dr Jenny Earle said:

“The government has recognised in its strategy that most of the solutions to women’s offending lie in the community, but so far has failed to adequately fund the women’s services that are key to delivering these.  Now an influential international body has added its voice to the growing clamour for more realistic funding. The time has come for the government to deliver on its commitments, and invest in those services it says it supports.”

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Commenting on the National Audit Office's report on transforming rehabilitation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This report shows how many of the problems that have beset the probation service in recent years stem directly from the way the government chose to re-organise the system. The so-called rehabilitation revolution has actually just put more people back into prison with all the damaging consequences David Gauke set out in his speech last week.

“There is a real risk that a hurried re-tendering of those services now will gloss over those fundamental design flaws. The NAO is right to sound a warning bell, just as so many did before the original reform was implemented. As a start, the justice secretary could take the opportunity to reduce the number of people in prison by stopping the recall to custody of people who have not committed a crime that would justify such a sentence in the first place.”

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Recycling Lives, a social business which enables prisoners to gain skills and qualifications to help them reduce their risk of reoffending on release, has been awarded the 2019 Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Re-integration. Recycling Lives works in 11 UK prisons and was nominated for the award for its work at HMP Wymott in Lancashire.

Set up in memory of Lord Corbett, this annual Award recognises outstanding rehabilitative work with prisoners by a charity or community group working in partnership with prison staff. It particularly seeks to recognise work that fosters personal responsibility, and which encourages people in prison, and ex-offenders, to take responsibility to help both themselves and help others.

The award also recognised A Fairer Chance, which was Highly Commended for its work at HMP East Sutton Park in Kent, and Circles South West which was Commended for its work at HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire.

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There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. The government’s serious violence strategy recognises that many of the solutions lie in preventative rather than punitive measures, however proposals in the Offensive Weapons Bill, currently before Parliament risk undermining this valuable work.

The Prison Reform Trust co-signed a joint letter to the Home Secretary, outlining our serious concerns about the bill, and was covered by The Observer this weekend.

As the House of Lords prepares to debate the Offensive Weapons Bill on Tuesday 26 February, the Prison Reform Trust and Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) have prepared a joint briefing to assist Peers.

We believe that many of the proposed measures within the bill will be ineffective in tackling the causes of violent behaviour. They increase the use of ineffective short mandatory minimum custodial sentences; create legal uncertainty; are likely to impact BAME communities disproportionality and further damage trust in the justice system.

We are extremely concerned about the government’s proposals for a Knife Crime Prevention Order (KCPO), which can be imposed on the balance of probability and are highly likely to be net-widening, labelling, disproportionately impact BAME communities, and impose more criminal sanctions on vulnerable children and young people. Earlier this month PRT and SCYJ, along with a coalition of organisations working with children and young people in the criminal justice system, wrote a letter published in The Times opposing the KCPO.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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Reacting to David Gauke’s speech at Reform this morning (18 February), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The justice secretary is establishing a reputation as a thoughtful, balanced policy thinker, driven by evidence not preconception. This speech rightly rejects the pointless language of tough versus soft, and calls for an informed debate about how to punish serious crime in ways that are both effective and humane. It deserves a non-partisan response, so that we can ultimately achieve a penal system of which the country can feel proud rather than ashamed.”

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Prison Reform Trust Director Peter Dawson runs a critical eye over the new proposed changes to our parole system

Very shortly after he was appointed Justice Secretary, David Gauke was confronted with a media storm over the Parole Board’s decision to authorise the release of John Worboys. Following judicial review proceedings in which the Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) was probably more heavily criticised than the Parole Board, The Justice Secretary nevertheless decided to sack the Parole Board chair, Professor Nick Hardwick, and, in the way that governments do, announced a couple of reviews to soak up the immediate pressure on his own department. A year later, the outcome of those two reviews has been published – one looking at Parole Board rules generally, and one a more specific response to a public consultation on whether Parole Board decisions should be subject to an appeal process.

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Commenting on the announcement Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"The Prison Reform Trust welcomes Jo Farrar as the CEO of HMPPS. We look forward to working closely with her, and in particular making it possible for her to hear from the people who live in the prisons for which she will be responsible. Their insight and willingness to help is vital to achieving the safe, decent and purposeful system to which we all aspire."

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