Conditions

Commenting on the Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics published today, Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Despite a small but welcome fall in deaths, every other indicator points to the ongoing and longstanding deterioration in standards of safety in our overstretched prisons. Record levels of self-harm and assaults highlight mounting levels of frustration and despair among prisoners. Too many prisoners are held in overcrowded and impoverished conditions with too few staff to provide a safe and constructive regime. With prison numbers projected to increase, declining levels of safety will be very difficult to turn around without a concerted effort by ministers to take the pressure off the system by reducing prison numbers."

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Prison closure confusion

16/10/2017 15:30:00

Last week, the Ministry of Justice’s programme for modernising the prison estate was thrown into confusion, with justice minister Sam Gyimah MP, appearing to contradict the head of HM Prisons and Probation Service, Michael Spurr, about planned prison closures. Speaking at the Prison Governor’s Association Annual Conference on Wednesday, Michael Spurr said that he anticipated that “we won’t close any prisons this parliament”. However, just the following day, when responding to a question in Parliament, Sam Gyimah said that the commitment to close prisons over the next few years “very much remains”.

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Commenting on today's thematic report on living conditions in prison by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This report describes a stain on our national reputation and reveals the dreadful truth about conditions in much of our overcrowded prison system. This is a system that “demoralises and embitters” the people for whom it purports to care, encourages drug taking in prison and undermines rehabilitation on release. Incredibly, enforced inactivity is worst for the young adults with most energy to burn.  As the Chief Inspector makes clear, reform cannot be delivered against this backdrop. A significant reduction in our unnecessary and unmerciful resort to this most severe of punishments is an essential first step to a prison system of which we can feel proud rather than ashamed.”

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The Prison Reform Trust has today (25 September) published its response to HM Treasury’s consultation on this year’s Budget, which highlights concerns about the viability of the Ministry of Justice’s prison building programme in light of the projected increase in prison numbers.

An additional and unanticipated rise in prison numbers, together with alarming new population projections, raise serious doubts about the sustainability of the prison estate transforming programme. Without the option of closing older prisons, as now appears inevitable under the current population projections, no funds are released to run the new prisons planned—still less to finance the building and running of new prisons that will be required over and above the 10 committed by the previous government.

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Photo: Stacey Oliver

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Over the last 18 months Prison Reform Trust has been encouraged to discover a variety of peer led services which provide information to prisoners about rules and procedures in custody and which complement the work that our Advice and Information service delivers.  These services help people understand the experiences they are having in prison, who they can go to for support and how to challenge any treatment which they think is not fair or decent.  

By visiting and speaking to the staff and prisoners who are running these services we have collated examples of good practice and devised a step by step toolkit for setting up a peer led service information service in a prison. This has been supported by input from Prisoners' Advice Service and St Giles Trust who have a wealth of experience and expertise in this field.

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PRT comment: HMP Grendon

14/09/2017 00:01:00

Commenting on today's positive inspection report on HMP Grendon, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
 
“This excellent report shows what a stable prison with adequate resources, consistent focus and leadership can achieve. Reserving prison for only those people who really need to be there would give other prisons the breathing space to perform equally well. The answer to our prisons crisis lies in reducing demand and the new justice secretary seems to have understood that. What is needed is a plan to make it happen.”

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Commenting on today's (27 July) publication of safety in custody statistics by the Ministry of Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“These numbers confirm what the Chief Inspector of Prisons has described in graphic detail—that our prison system is nowhere near being safe for those who live and work within it. The appalling loss of life and toll of despair requires something more immediate than the promise of more staff and new prisons. In the short term, the provision of much cheaper and easier access to a legitimate phone system would make a day to day difference—and provide some consolation to the families of prisoners wondering if their loved ones are safe inside.”

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Commenting on the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons' Annual Report 2016–17, published today, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
 
“The Chief Inspector of Prisons could not put it any more clearly—political rhetoric on prison reform counts for nothing when so many prisons lack the most basic elements of a civilised way of life for either prisoners or staff. A dramatic reduction in staffing numbers prompted this crisis, but its solution lies in a similarly dramatic change in the way we use prison. Ending the use of pointless short sentences and needless recalls would ease pressure quickly on the worst affected prisons. But a timetabled plan to end overcrowding, reserving prison to only the most serious offences, and for periods that punish without destroying hope, is essential to achieving a permanent improvement in the longer term.”

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There should be a step change in the availability of release on temporary licence (ROTL) out of prisons to give more businesses the opportunity to employ prisoners in the community as part of preparation for their release, according to a new report published today (2 June) by the Prison Reform Trust.
 
The report, which details the findings of a two-year action learning project Out for Good based in HMP Brixton in south London, says there is "huge potential" to get more prisoners into jobs and training. It found a substantial number of employers both open to employing ex-offenders and willing to work with prisons to achieve this.

Against expectations, the report found it was not the attitudes of employers but national prison policy and practice which was the main barrier preventing opportunities for work and training from being seized.

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Commenting on the Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics published today, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"The message from these deeply alarming numbers could not be any clearer. An overcrowded prison system cannot cope with the number of people it is expected to hold. People are being maimed and dying in unprecedented numbers as a direct consequence. Two years of positive rhetoric from the government about prison reform has done nothing to stop a relentless decline in safety. There is no end in sight, and a new government must make a reduction in imprisonment a top priority."

The Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics (quarterly update to December 2016) are available here.

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