Conditions

The government should follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a presumption against short prison sentences as part of their efforts to restore safety and stability to our struggling jails according to a new briefing, Prison: the facts, published today by the Prison Reform Trust.

The briefing reveals the current scale of the challenge facing the government, with hundreds of people flowing in and out of the prison system on short sentences every week, placing pressure on an already overstretched and overcrowded prison system.

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Commenting on today's Annual Report, published by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The findings of this report put Britain to shame. We should not tolerate a situation in a civilised society where thousands of prisoners are forced to share cells designed for one, eating their meals next to an unscreened toilet; where violence and self-harm have risen exponentially ; and where a fifth of prisoners spend less than two hours a day out of their cell.

“The heart of the problem is that we use prison too much. Solving that means reserving custody for only the most serious and violent offenders. Ministers have rightly said they want to follow the evidence and stop the pointless use of futile short prison sentences for less serious crime. They now need to back that up with statutory and operational measures that will deliver the change they want to see.”

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Commenting on today’s speech by David Gauke at the Centre for Social Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“David Gauke has set out a balanced and pragmatic approach to prison reform. He rightly starts by insisting that prison really should be a last resort and the futile imprisonment of short sentenced prisoners should end.

“£7m for in-cell phones in 20 prisons is a concrete and significant investment, which should pave the way for a national roll out. New measures to identify trouble makers need careful scrutiny to avoid perpetuating discriminatory treatment based on untested evidence.

“Getting the detail right will depend on listening to the people who live and work in prison—especially as the minister develops his plans for incentives that will change behaviour.”

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Commenting on the urgent notification issued today (31 May 2018) by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) over safety concerns at HMP Exeter, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Exeter prison is a grossly overcrowded prison where most prisoners are either not convicted at all or are serving short sentences. So David Gauke’s response to this urgent notification from the Chief Inspector should start by saying how he will give effect to the new policy direction he set out last weekend. He rightly wants to replace short prison sentences with community penalties that his own research show to be more effective at cutting crime. Turning that wish into reality is the most important thing he can do to stop the rot in Exeter and many other prisons like it.”

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Commenting on the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s education and employment strategy today (24 May 2018), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is a welcome strategy full to the brim with good intentions. It could make a big difference to the families and communities to which prisoners return on release.

“But almost none of those good intentions set a date for when they will be delivered, or how many people will benefit. We have heard many of these promises before.

“So the government must take this opportunity to show it means business. It must deliver a National Insurance holiday for employers, not just consider it. It must get thousands more prisoners into workplace release on temporary licence, not just consult about it. And it needs to say how many more prisoners will end up with a job when all these good intentions have turned into reality.”

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Whilst there has been a welcome reduction in the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison over the last year, figures published last month show that all other safety indicators are once again set records for all the wrong reasons.

Record levels of self-harming; record levels of assaults on prisoners; and record levels of assaults on staff show that violence and fear is the daily reality for many people in prison.

Dr Kimmett Edgar, the Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Research, a specialist in violence and conflict resolution in prisons, has produced a guide for staff and officials to help them to develop much needed strategies for violence reduction in our prisons. This guide builds on a speech he delivered to the Prison Safety and Reform team at the Ministry of Justice last month.

Conflict resolution needs to be placed at the centre of prison strategies to reduce violence. Doing so would empower governors, officers and prisoners in their efforts to make prisons safer.

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Prison governors should be encouraged to empty prison wings during the day and get far more prisoners out on temporary release to engage in work, training and education in the community, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) says.

As part of its forthcoming employment strategy for prisoners, the government should introduce a radical approach to using release on temporary licence (ROTL) at scale across the prison estate. This would be a huge incentive to good behaviour in prison as well as an effective aid to resettlement, the briefing suggests.

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Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
 
“Despite a welcome reduction in the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison over the last year, all other safety indicators have once again set records for all the wrong reasons. Record levels of self-harming; record levels of assaults on prisoners; and record levels of assaults on staff show that violence and fear is the daily reality for many people in prison. Rebuilding officer numbers is the short term solution, but if we want to improve safety in the longer term we need to take the pressure off overstretched prisons by reducing prison numbers to a sustainable level.”

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Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on incentivising and promoting good behaviour, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is a very important report, and especially timely given the justice secretary’s desire to use incentives to make prisons better. The core messages are simple and well known. Relationships hold the key, and those can only be built when prisoners are out of their cells and staff have the time to get to know them. Consistent and fair application of clear standards is essential. Release on temporary licence is seen by prisoners as the biggest long term incentive, but is grossly underused. 


“All of this holds true for adults as well as children, and ministers could not ask for a clearer explanation of why the overburdened adult estate is not delivering a safe and decent way of life in so many prisons. The investment all prisons need is in the time and skills to build relationships. Realistically, that has to mean an end to too many people going to prison for too long.” 

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Commenting on the speech made this morning by the Justice Secretary Rt Hon David Gauke MP on prison reform, Peter Dawson , director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"The Justice Secretary set out an ambitious programme of reform for our prisons. But his predecessor promised to save £400m in the coming year. David Gauke's refusal to rule out further cuts in prisons raises serious doubts as to whether any of it is deliverable. Reducing reoffending, while a welcome ambition, will not make any significant dent in the size of the prison population. It is only by stemming the flow of people into prison and reversing sentence inflation that the government can begin to reduce chronic levels of overcrowding and get a grip on declining standards of safety and purposeful activity in our prisons. Anything else is wishful thinking."

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