Conditions

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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The Prison Reform Trust and the Howard League for Penal Reform have written to the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland today in the light of the rapidly developing situation in prisons in relation to outbreaks of Covid-19.

The letter calls for greater transparency, to ensure that prisoners and their families are able to understand the basis on which decisions are being taken, including the publication of evidence and advice received by ministers on the risks of transmission in prisons; and the different measures taken to contain the spread of Covid-19.

It also highlights a number of policy decisions which the charities believe could and should be taken now to reassure prisoners and their families about the difficult months ahead.

Click 'read more' to see a copy of our letter and to read the full story

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Lockdown conditions in prisons have effectively ended opportunities for prisoners to take part in rehabilitation activities and progress in their sentences.

For the nearly 11,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (9,000 unreleased; 2,000 recalled), this could lead to them spending significantly longer in prison than they might have otherwise. This is because they may be unable to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they have taken part in activities to reduce their risk.

A further 5,815 people serving extended determinate sentences, whose release is dependent on the Parole Board up until the end of their custodial term, could also find themselves spending longer in prison because of a lack of access to rehabilitation.

The uncertainty is leading to increasing despair and hopelessness and putting a significant strain on the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners, already suffering as a result of lockdown conditions, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

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Today the Prison Reform Trust published a letter it has received from the Secretary of State to Justice Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP QC regarding video calls in prison.

Responding to concerns raised by the Prison Reform Trust of the risk that video calls might become a substitute for face-to-face visits, the Secretary of State provides an assurance that “it is absolutely not the intention that video calling will be a substitute for face-to-face visits. Where face-to-face visits can safely be delivered and remain the preference, no prisoner should be asked to substitute that for a video call.”

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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:

“This vital report shows that the measures prisons have taken to contain Covid-19 are not sustainable. As we face the prospect of a rise in infections during the autumn, prisons have been left facing the same fundamental problem as when the pandemic first took hold. There are too many prisoners for the space available. The government has wilfully set its face against the safe reduction in prison numbers which would allow the more flexible and humane response the Chief Inspector is calling for. As numbers going through the court system increase, it will be prisoners and their families who pay the price of that failure to plan ahead.”

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Following the publication of the first report of our new CAPPTIVE project, established in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the prisons minister Lucy Frazer has written to the Prison Reform Trust to welcome its findings.

In her response she endorses the value of listening to prisoners and their families, and their involvement in how prisons organise their response to the pandemic. This is welcome, as we know the best prisons already do this because they have seen the value it brings.

As the CAPPTIVE project continues at pace, we will continue to tell her directly what prisoners and their families are telling us.

Click here to read the letter.

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The gradual resumption of face-to-face visits in some prisons earlier this month will have come as an immense relief for those able to see their loved ones. But as prisons begin their recovery and restrictions are eased at different speeds, it will take time before visits return to anywhere near the levels seen before the pandemic.

Currently video calls are available in 30 of the 120 prisons in England and Wales, and access is limited to one call of up to 30 minutes per month per person. Nevertheless, for those few who have had access, it will have been the first time they have seen the faces of their loved ones in three months or more.

Last month Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice for his assurance that video calls will be a permanent addition to the ways in which family ties can be maintained, not just during the Covid-19 pandemic but thereafter, and that they will not be used as a substitute or alternative to either phone calls or face to face visits.

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Last month the Prison Reform Trust and Howard League for Penal Reform wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, to highlight our shared concerns that people in prison continue to be held in conditions which are inhumane and untenable.

Most people in prison are either in prolonged solitary confinement or in overcrowded conditions. Despite the additional resources that have been given to prisons to cope with the crisis, each and every report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons has painted a clear, bleak picture: prisons are devoid of purposeful activity and opportunities for people to make amends.

We have now received a response to our letter.

Click 'read more' to see a copy of his letter and a comment from our director, Peter Dawson.

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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:

“This report shows just how self-defeating the government’s obstinate refusal to contemplate early release for some prisoners has become. Open prisons hold many people who had been working in the community before the pandemic struck—contributing to the economy and re-establishing the links that lead to a crime free life. But rather than release these people, the government has kept them cooped up doing nothing. Incredibly, ministers are paying for new temporary accommodation as well, all for people who could quite safely not be there at all.”

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