Conditions

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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It was confirmed today that following the decision to hold a general election on 8 June the Prisons and Courts Bill will not progress any further in this Parliament.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"The prisons and courts bill, while far from perfect, had achieved cross-party support and contained some valuable measures to make prisons fit for the 21st century. With levels of safety, decency and fairness continuing to slide, the fall of the bill as a result of the election must not derail the vital job of prison reform. The next government, whatever its political complexion, should reintroduce a prisons bill as a top priority."

Click here to read about the Prison Reform Trust's work on the bill up to this point.

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Commenting on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture's report on UK prisons, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"This is a devastating international indictment of how low our prison system has sunk. This independent, expert committee exists to prevent mistreatment in prisons across Europe. It should be a matter of national shame that they found that every prison they visited in this country was unsafe for both staff and prisoners. They specifically found that some children were being held in conditions that were inhuman and degrading

"The committee is equally clear that endemic overcrowding lies behind this appalling failure. Its report makes plain that the government's stated commitment to reform will come to nothing without determined and prompt action to reduce prison numbers.
 
"There have been times in our history when the way we ran our prisons was held up as a model for other countries to follow. Now we are falling short of the most basic international expectations. Whatever the outcome of the general election, a new government needs to restore some pride in the way we treat the people we choose to punish."

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Commenting on the prisons and courts bill, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"A statutory commitment to a system that rehabilitates is crucial to building safer communities. But the key task for legislation is to ensure that prisons are places in which that ambition can actually be realised. No future government should be allowed to preside over the decline in safety, decency and fairness that  we have seen in recent years. Achieving that will require a commitment to minimum standards, a clear statement of the responsibilities of prisons to those in their care, an independent prisons inspectorate appointed by and accountable to parliament, and a sustained effort to reduce chronic levels of overcrowding and curb sentence inflation."

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