Conditions

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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Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, has responded to the Justice Secretary Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's speech on prison reform to the Centre for Social Justice with a letter published today in The Times newspaper.

Sir, Your leader hits a whole series of nails on their heads. Setting arbitrary limits on the prison population is not the issue. Eliminating overcrowding is. It represents the corrosion at the heart of our prisons, undermining decency, safety and rehabilitation. And no government in living memory has made a dent in it, probably because none has thought it worth having a strategy to do so.

Among all the many aspirations to emerge since the crisis in our prisons was finally acknowledged by Michael Gove and now Liz Truss, there is an echoing void where a timetabled plan to eliminate overcrowding should be. In the short term, the pressure can eased by not sending people to prison who need help not punishment, preventing the recall of people to prison on technical grounds, and by reversing the decline in early release on electronic tags. Longer term, we need to rethink how we punish more serious crime, restoring discretion to the courts and hope to the prisoners whose lives we seek to change.

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This week the Prison Reform Trust will be hosting a roundtable event to discuss the learning from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) Prison Reform Fellowships. From 2010–2015, the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust funded Travelling Fellowships with a particular focus on prison reform across the world. The Fellowships are the result of an innovative partnership between WCMT and the Prison Reform Trust.

The meeting will focus on the findings of two recently published briefings, authored by Jessica Jacobson and Helen Fair of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Birkbeck, University of London, which highlight some of the learning from these Fellowships in maintaining contact between prisoners and their families and problem-solving approaches to criminal justice.  

Attendees include WCMT fellows, senior policymakers and practitioners. For more information please contact Justin Elder justin.elder@prisonreformtrust.org.uk 

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Prison safety and reform

10/01/2017 08:00:00

The long awaited Ministry of Justice's white paper on prison safety and reform was published in November.

Whilst there is much to welcome, the aspirations in the white paper can only be met through the delivery of very detailed policy development, most of which has yet to be undertaken.

There are also some critical elements of reform missing, including measures to reduce the demand for prison places; standards for decency and fairness; and providing a role for prisoners in designing and delivering reform.

You can read our full response to the white paper by clicking here.

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Ambulance call outs to prison

09/01/2017 12:40:00

Yesterday (8 January) Director of the Prison Reform Trust, Peter Dawson took part in BBC Radio 5 Live investigates. Figures show that the number of ambulance call-outs to prisons in England has increased by nearly 40 per cent in the last three years—with an ambulance being called on average every 45 minutes.

Peter highlighted the intense pressures that prisons and people in them are facing, with the effects of an overcrowded and under resourced system now plain to see. High levels of overcrowding, coupled with a reduction in operational staff numbers have brought about a rapid decline in standards of safety and decency within our prisons. With levels of assaults, self-harm and deaths at record highs, as highlighted in our most recent Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile.

You can listen again to the show by clicking here.

Photo: Lydia under creative commons

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