Conditions

Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has written to Jo Farrar, CEO of HM Prison and Probation Service and Second Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, to highlight the confusion surrounding plans to reform prison conditions.

The Daily Mail reported last month that a Ministry of Justice “source” expected a White Paper on prisons to be published later this year, and offered a simplistic and misleading summary of what might be learned from the experience of prisoners over the last 15 months.

In the letter, Peter Dawson writes:

“We are only too pleased to work closely with officials as policy is developed…and in particular to help the department hear from prisoners. But we are deeply suspicious of these constructive and candid conversations being presented as a sufficient process to inform a White Paper on prisons, especially when the press is being fed what appears to be advance notice of a policy decision to reduce the time prisoners will spend unlocked."

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Prisoner numbers in England and Wales are projected to rise by one quarter (20,000) over the next five years. But there are no plans either to reduce overcrowding or close prisons that are clearly unfit for purpose. Efforts by the prison service to recover from the impact of the global pandemic will be fatally undermined as a result, according to a new report published today (5 July 2021) by the Prison Reform Trust. 

The report, Prison: the facts, highlights Ministry of Justice prison population projections that predict a rise to 98,700 people from the current level of 77,912 (4 June 2021) by 2026. This is due to the impact of inflationary sentencing policies, including proposals in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill currently before Parliament, the recruitment of 20,000 police officers, which is expected to increase charge volumes, and the recovery of the courts as Covid-19 restrictions subside.

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Commenting on the findings of the first annual report by the IMB specifically covering YOIs within England, PRT senior associate John Drew said:

"The IMB’s first annual report on conditions in children’s prisons unerringly demonstrates the harm done to children in prison during the Covid crises. An important lesson is that greater local freedom given to Governors from the outset would have meant that children were much less isolated and had better access to education.

"The IMB rightly notice more recent improvements while also identifying that the provision for children still falls well short of the minimum standards the government has previously set. The IMB also brings a fresh mind to the issue of mental health and highlights that the lack of secure mental heath facilities for children mean that many children are in custody who need specialist care in NHS facilities, much to the frustration of staff working in prisons."

Click here to read the full report

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PRT comment: ‘Time’

14/06/2021 16:40:00

Reacting to the new BBC drama ‘Time’, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“ ‘Time’ condenses a lot of experiences into one man’s story, but it is telling a fundamental truth about our prison system. Too many people—many of them very unwell—are being forced to live in overcrowded, dilapidated prisons. Years of political neglect have produced a system that makes life more dangerous both for those inside it and for the communities they will rejoin on release. This government, with its addiction to more prison, is making exactly the same mistake.”

Former Prison Reform Trust Trustee and Editor of Inside Time, Erwin James was also interviewed by The Sun, which you can read by clicking here.

Peter Dawson was interviewed for an opinion piece in The Guardian, which you can read by clicking here.

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Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has urged the government to take the necessary "political decision" to enable greater access to ICT in prisons.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Committee today (8 June) Peter Dawson said:

"There was a time when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have televisions in their cells. There was a time time very recently when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have phones in their cells, and now two-thirds of prisons have phones in cells.

"The use of technology goes so far beyond education. We're worried about people spraying Spice onto letters, you can't spray Spice onto an email but prisoners can't access electronic communication. The case has been made long ago, but it needs political will to make it happen."

Click here to catch up on the whole evidence session, and click here to read our written evidence to the committee's inquiry on prison education.

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The prison service has “regressed” in its efforts to tackle racial inequality, a leading expert on equality and diversity in the criminal justice system has warned.

Writing in the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, Beverley Thompson OBE, a former senior civil servant and Race Equality Advisor (2004 – 2009) at HM Prison Service, says that “many in the prison service have either lost commitment and direction from their leadership or their organisational expertise and energy is depleted—seeking comfort instead from the dangerous mantra that ‘race has been done’.”

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Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons annual report on children’s experiences in custody, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This damning report describes conditions for imprisoned children that predate the pandemic. It shows a third of children not able to shower once a day. Most of these teenagers couldn’t even play sport once a week. More than two out of every five had been bullied. And in a system where over half come from an ethnic minority, the colour of your skin led to an even worse experience across almost every aspect of daily life inside.

But despite these shameful facts, the government has published a white paper which will reverse the steady decline in the number of children we imprison, and which accepts that its proposals will have a disproportionate impact on children of colour. Parliament should refuse to countenance such an appalling prospect.”

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The Prison Reform Trust and Howard League for Penal Reform have received a brief response to our letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, requesting details of the ministry’s plans ahead of an expected increase in people being sent to prison as courts start to resume normal business.

For all the billions that have been promised for new prisons, it is clear that there is no plan for a prison estate free of overcrowding, despite the misery people have suffered during  the pandemic in prisons holding too many people too close together.

Click here to read his response.

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We were pleased to receive a response from the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland this week to our joint letter with the Howard League of 13 October.

His response is full and quite detailed. It shows that the prison service has made a thorough and genuine attempt to quickly learn the lessons from its initial response to the pandemic in the spring. It has done so not just through its own research but by taking on board what we in our CAPPTIVE reports(1)(2), and many other organisations, have been telling it. No-one is pretending that everything is as we would want it, and the adjusted approach the prison service wants to take now is dependent on staffing and on how the virus progresses in individual prisons and in the community. But we can point to some significant improvements at least in what the prison service is trying to deliver.

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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:

“The Chief Inspector has issued a stark reminder about the reality of life in our prisons, before as well as during the pandemic. No civilised country should sentence people to imprisonment served largely behind a cell door, with all the damage enforced idleness will do to a person’s mental health and to their prospects of a better life after release. The idea that prisons run better in those circumstances is facile and the Chief Inspector is right to dismiss it.

“Good management can certainly mitigate some of the problems our prison system faces, but it will never solve the fundamental problem of a system coping with too many prisoners. Yet the government seems oblivious to the fact that overcrowding puts lives at risk and undermines every one of its ambitions for a better prison system. It will continue to receive damning reports like this for as long as that inertia continues.”

Click here to download a copy of the report.

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