The prison service is struggling to retain the new prison officers it is recruiting, raising questions over its ability to run a safe and purposeful regime whilst also preparing for a predicted rise in prison numbers of 20,000 by 2026.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (18 May) report by the House of Commons Education Committee, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Yet again, a select committee is calling out the government’s chronic failure to deliver on its promises where prisons are concerned. The report lists six years’ worth of eloquent policies about prison education, all of them still to be implemented.

“It’s time for action, not words. Informed by the realistic wisdom of over 50 responses from prisoners, the report makes many practical recommendations that the government should accept and put into effect. A defined purpose for education that recognises how much longer prison sentences have become, secure broadband in every prison, more opportunities to study in the community, simple continuity in recording achievement — these are just some examples of long overdue reforms.

“But the committee also shines a light on the corrosive impact of an overcrowded and understaffed prison estate. Prison education cannot flourish where prisoners spend all day locked up, and are moved from prison to prison just to fill the available spaces. Our national addiction to imprisonment cannot be reconciled with the ambitions ministers repeatedly describe. Without a fundamental change in how we use prison, more reports like this can be guaranteed.”

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (17 May) Criminal Justice Joint Inspection report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This report exposes as a complete fallacy the idea that the criminal justice system is back to ‘normal’, or anything close to it. In prisons, the Covid crisis has simply morphed into a wholly predictable staffing crisis. The outcome for prisoners is the same — endless days spent behind a cell door, with all the disastrous consequences for both health and public protection that the report sets out.

“In that context, the government’s insatiable appetite to have ever more people in prison is more irrational than ever. The report correctly remembers that the justice system was on its knees before the pandemic struck. What it needs now is fundamental reform, not an obsession with simply looking tougher than your political opponents.”

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Commenting on the findings of conditions at HMP & YOI Bronzefield by HM Inspectorate of Prisons today (11 May), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Despite impressive work in some areas, so many of the problems documented in this report are simply beyond the scope of one prison to solve. Too many women with serious mental health problems are entering prison instead of treatment and care in the community. And too many women are leaving prison without stable accommodation. The government already has a female offenders strategy which, if properly resourced and backed with a detailed plan for implementation, would go some way to fixing these problems. Vulnerable women in prison need more than warm words from ministers. They need them to deliver on their promises.”

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Commenting on the findings of the Public Accounts Committee report on improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system (28 April), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a forensic dismantling of the government’s wholly inadequate approach to implementing its strategy to reduce offending by women. Ever since its publication, we and many other organisations have been making the same arguments as the Public Accounts Committee, to a succession of different ministers, and all to no avail. As with so much of the criminal justice system, the government’s deeds have not matched its rhetoric — most obviously in its decision to invest over 20 times more in building prisons for women than in implementing its own policy of reducing the need for them in the first place.

“The committee’s precise description of what should happen now is very welcome. Ministers should be thoroughly embarrassed that it has taken such an intervention to hold them to account for the promises they’ve made.”

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Blog: Time out of cell

27/04/2022 14:20:00

In December last year, the prisons minister said this in an answer to a written parliamentary question about what was happening to prisoners during the pandemic:

Whilst time out of cell has at times been reduced due to these restrictions, prisons are not limiting prisoners to leaving their cells for one hour per day.”

In this blog, PRT director Peter Dawson queries this surprising statement, and what we've been doing to clarify what is really happening.

Click 'read more' to read the blog

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The Prison Reform Trust along with 19 organisations and individuals working in criminal justice and healthcare have sent a joint letter to the Secretaries of State for Health and Justice, Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab—two years since the prison service introduced a full lockdown with severely restricted regimes in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter calls for:

  • immediate additional mental health support for prisoners;
  • individual mental and physical health checks for everyone in custody; and
  • support for frontline health and justice staff.

It also strongly advises that a thorough review of the impact of the pandemic on the mental and physical health of people in prison is conducted.

A similar letter has also been sent to the respective ministers and healthcare officials in Wales.

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PRT comment: HMP/YOI Deerbolt

12/04/2022 00:01:00

Commenting on the findings of conditions at HMP/YOI Deerbolt by HM Inspectorate of Prisons today (12 April), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“In December 2021 the government said in its Prison Strategy White Paper that HMP/YOI Deerbolt would provide a model for other prisons to follow in their treatment of young men. So it is deeply worrying that inspectors describe a prison in which the majority of the people it holds are spending entire days in complete idleness. It’s no surprise that their frustration and pent up energy results in violence. But the cure for that — active, purposeful days spent out of their cells — seems further away than ever.”

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Commenting on the publication today of the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations for 2021, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Some politicians may be tempted to celebrate the fact that we imprison more of our fellow citizens than other European countries. But to be high up a league table where Russia sits at the top should perhaps give ministers pause for thought.

“Once again, these depressing figures show how other countries find better and less wasteful ways to exact retribution when people have done wrong. The size of our prison population reflects only our dismal politics — beating crime has nothing to do with it.”

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Blog: Review of the parole system

31/03/2022 17:00:00

In this article for the Fairness Foundation, Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson sets out why the proposed reforms to parole, published this week, sacrifice fairness for political expediency.

Click 'read more' for the full article.

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