A clear and shared vision of the purpose of imprisonment has been described by prisoners as “essential” in a new report published today (1 December) by the Prison Reform Trust.

The report has been published as prison leaders consider how to “build back better” following nearly two years of severe restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, and a decade of declining standards in jails in England and Wales.

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This week PRT director Peter Dawson and research officer Dr Mia Harris gave oral evidence along with Russell Webster to the House of Commons Justice Committee as part of their inquiry into the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP).

The evidence session provided an opportunity to highlight the findings of our report 'No life, no freedom, no future' which we published last year on the growing problem of people being recalled back to custody after their release.

You can watch the evidence session on the Parliament website.

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Commenting on the publication of today’s (25 November) prison population projections by the Ministry of Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The latest projection for the prison population will be portrayed by ministers as a policy success, with more criminals brought to justice. But the detail actually contains multiple admissions of failure. The government is recruiting 23,400 police officers but has no idea whether their time is to be spent preventing crime or chasing after it. Action to reduce reoffending is promised but apparently will have no impact. A strategy to reduce the imprisonment of women will fail so completely that the female prison population will grow by over a third. Inadequate support in the community for people on indeterminate sentences will mean that even more are being needlessly recalled to prison. By 2025, around 30% of our prison population will be over 50 years old, when the peak age for offending is people in their late twenties.

“The price of all these failures is an extra 18,000 people in prison by 2025, costing us all an additional £800m every year, not to mention the £4bn already put aside to build the cells to house them. Exactly why, uniquely in western Europe, we need to lock up so many of our fellow citizens, is never explained. It’s a foolish waste of scarce resources, driven by politics, not evidence.”

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Most women (64%) received into prison are serving short prison sentences of less than 12 months. However, the small minority serving very long determinate or indeterminate sentences are often overlooked in advocacy debates and policy, meaning their experiences are not fully recognised, a new briefing released today by the Prison Reform Trust has revealed.

The briefing has been produced in collaboration with 16 women serving indeterminate sentences as part of the Prison Reform Trust’s Building Futures programme, a five-year project funded by the National Lottery Community Fund to explore the experiences of people who will spend 10 or more years in custody. It is the first in a series which will aim to shed light on the distinct experiences of these often ‘invisible women’ serving long determinate and indeterminate sentences.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (17 November) joint thematic inspection of the criminal justice journey for individuals with mental health needs and disorders, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The government repeatedly celebrates the fact that it expects to send more people to custody and is spending £4bn to build new prisons as a result. But this hugely important joint report from six different inspectorates shows that many of the people who will fill those cells will be mentally ill. 12 years on from being given a road map to solve these problems, the government’s progress is exposed as inadequate. Austerity provides no excuse. Much of what the inspectors describe stems from a failure to work efficiently across departments rather than a lack of resource. But where resource is an issue, governments still choose to spend on punishment rather than treatment.

“A frantic search is underway for ways in which to accommodate the surge in prison numbers expected as courts work through their backlog. That will mean more people spending 23 hours a day sharing Victorian cells in prisons that should be closed. It will mean more people sent to prison as a “place of safety” despite the overwhelming evidence that such prisons cause mental health conditions to worsen, not improve.

“The solutions are still there, and this latest report lays them out. But they require the government to concentrate its attention and resources on their delivery—a task that pointless ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric only seeks to evade.”

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PRT comment: HMP/YOI Bronzefield

16/11/2021 10:00:00

Commenting on the findings of today’s (16 November) annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP/YOI Bronzefield, Emily Evison, policy officer at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Housing for prison leavers is touted as a priority for this government, but today’s report shows a situation getting worse, not better. It is unacceptable that more than three-quarters of women released from London’s main prison for women are without safe and secure accommodation a month after release. More must be done to meet the housing needs of women. Without access to safe, stable accommodation, they are being set up for further abuse and victimisation.”

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Last month, Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson wrote to Jo Farrar, Chief Executive Officer of HM Prison and Probation Service to seek clarification on the delivery and leadership of the HMPPS Race Action Programme.

Following a response from Ian Blakeman, executive director for strategy, planning and performance, Peter has written a short blog outling why he remains concerned that both the delivery and leadership in tackling the multiple disproportionate outcomes currently experienced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic prisoners falls disappointingly short.

Click 'read more' for Peter's blog.

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Event: 40 years of prison reform

09/11/2021 10:00:00

To mark Prison Reform Trust's 40th anniversary, we will be hosting a webinar to consider the past, present and future of prison reform on 9 November from 12:45pm.

The webinar will be hosted by John Drew CBE, a senior associate of Prison Reform Trust (PRT), who recently wrote a short history of PRT. John will provide a brief introduction to the event, reflecting on PRT's first forty years. Panelists will then have an hour to respond to questions from the audience about the past, present and future of prison reform.

The panelists are Peter Dawson, current director of PRT, previous directors Juliet Lyon CBE and Stephen Shaw CBE, and PRT Trustee Mifta Choudhury.

Click here to register for the event.

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PRT comment: HMP Hull

02/11/2021 00:01:00

Commenting on the findings of today’s (2 November) report on conditions at HMP Hull by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“At the very start of the pandemic, the government took a secret decision to accelerate the rollout of ‘PAVA’ spray—a chemical incapacitant weapon—to all closed adult male prisons. When challenged in court, the prison service gave repeated undertakings about the central scrutiny that would be applied to make sure that PAVA was properly used. But yet again, the inspectorate have found that PAVA has been used without justification and that local safeguards are not working. PAVA use has been unnecessary, disproportionate and unsafe, and it’s taken the independent inspectorate to notice.

“The prison service is not in control of the weapon it’s put into officers’ hands. The rollout has to stop, and PAVA must be withdrawn from the prisons where the standards promised just aren’t being met.”

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Commenting on the announcement in the Spending Review of £3.5 billion to fund the MOJ’s commitment to create 18,000 additional prison places, and a further £250 million to fund an extra 2,000 temporary prison places, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The budget celebrates the pointless waste of £3.75bn on 20,000 new prison places that are needed only because successive governments have wanted to talk tough on crime. By the next spending review, the taxpayer is going to be asked to find the £900m every year those new spaces will cost to run. The Chancellor has simply created a problem for his successor to solve.

“If we just used prison with the moderation most of our neighbours employ, all of this money would be saved.”

Peter has also written about the Budget and Spending Review for the Justice Gap which you can read by clicking here.

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