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Commenting on today’s announcement (17 August) by the Ministry of Justice to invest £10m into 10 of the most challenging prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The Governors of the 10 prisons will be pleased to have a little more money, wherever it comes from. But we have been here before. In 2016 Michael Gove set up six reform prisons that would pave the way for others to follow. That idea was quietly shelved by his successors with neither explanation nor evaluation. We are now promised ‘tangible’ results from a new version, so we need to be told what those results are, and who will be held to account for delivering them.

“If Rory Stewart makes good on his wish to see fewer people go to prison on short sentences he will achieve something fundamental on prison reform. But he must concentrate on the job only he can do—matching the demands on the system to the resource Parliament is prepared to make available for it. It was a catastrophic failure to provide that balance which caused the collapse of prison safety after 2012—trying to tell Governors how to run prisons is not going to put it right.”

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The latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley briefings prison factfile highlights in facts and figures the consequences of a punitive political arms race over criminal justice policy over the past three decades. Steep cuts to prison staff and budgets in recent years have exposed the fault lines of a failed approach. The result is an overcrowded and overstretched prison system where standards of safety and decency are way below international expectations.
 
This year’s Bromley briefings open with a brand new section which we have called “The long view”. The Prison Reform Trust has built its reputation over more than three decades on presenting accurate evidence about prisons and the people in them. In a world where ministers feel compelled to respond to issues with ever greater immediacy, “The long view” offers an antidote to the latest Twitter storm or early morning grilling in the media.

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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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