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

“This vital report shows that the measures prisons have taken to contain Covid-19 are not sustainable. As we face the prospect of a rise in infections during the autumn, prisons have been left facing the same fundamental problem as when the pandemic first took hold. There are too many prisoners for the space available. The government has wilfully set its face against the safe reduction in prison numbers which would allow the more flexible and humane response the Chief Inspector is calling for. As numbers going through the court system increase, it will be prisoners and their families who pay the price of that failure to plan ahead.”

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Following the publication of the first report of our new CAPPTIVE project, established in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the prisons minister Lucy Frazer has written to the Prison Reform Trust to welcome its findings.

In her response she endorses the value of listening to prisoners and their families, and their involvement in how prisons organise their response to the pandemic. This is welcome, as we know the best prisons already do this because they have seen the value it brings.

As the CAPPTIVE project continues at pace, we will continue to tell her directly what prisoners and their families are telling us.

Click here to read the letter.

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Since 2015, the Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives programme has aimed to reduce women’s imprisonment across the UK. During that time the programme has engaged with over 150 women with lived experience of the criminal justice system. As we prepare to draw the programme to a close this autumn, research by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), published today, gives an insight into how women were involved, and the perceived impact of their contribution.

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The government has announced improvements to care for pregnant women and mothers in prison, in response to a review by the Ministry of Justice, after long running criticism of the poor care that pregnant women receive in prison, and the recent deaths of two babies during childbirth in prison.

Our own research, 'What about me?' highlights the impact of separation on children when mothers are imprisoned, and found that their needs and best interests are rarely considered by the justice system.

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The gradual resumption of face-to-face visits in some prisons earlier this month will have come as an immense relief for those able to see their loved ones. But as prisons begin their recovery and restrictions are eased at different speeds, it will take time before visits return to anywhere near the levels seen before the pandemic.

Currently video calls are available in 30 of the 120 prisons in England and Wales, and access is limited to one call of up to 30 minutes per month per person. Nevertheless, for those few who have had access, it will have been the first time they have seen the faces of their loved ones in three months or more.

Last month Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice for his assurance that video calls will be a permanent addition to the ways in which family ties can be maintained, not just during the Covid-19 pandemic but thereafter, and that they will not be used as a substitute or alternative to either phone calls or face to face visits.

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The Prison Reform Trust welcomes the publication today by the Sentencing Council of Overarching principles: Sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders, or neurological impairments.

A high proportion of people in contact with the criminal justice system have mental health needs, learning disability or a neurological disorder. We hope that the new guideline will provide clarity and transparency for the sentencing of these individuals and help to ensure that their specific needs are taken into account and met in the sentencing process.

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The rollout of secure video calls in prisons should be speeded up to ease the distress of families and their loved ones unable to see each other since the cancellation of social visits, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust suggests.

Based on 278 contributions from families and prisoners in England and Wales, the briefing reveals a mounting sense of anger, frustration and despair over more than 3 months of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in prisons.

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