Families

Children are often devastated when their mum is sent to prison but their interests are rarely considered by a justice system which is blind to their needs, a new report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) reveals.

For most children, their mother is their primary carer. Every year an estimated 17,000 children experience their mum being sent to prison. Last year, 83% of women sentenced to prison had committed a non-violent crime and 62% were serving a sentence of six months or less.

The report shows that a mother’s imprisonment not only damages the child’s relationship with her, but can affect every area of their lives, including their housing, education, health, and well-being.

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Late last year, the Prison Reform Trust’s advice and information service received a number of enquiries from people held in private prisons, regarding the cost of electronically transferring money into their prison account from families outside. Public sector prisons have also recently introduced such a service, however, unlike in private prisons this service is provided at no cost to either the sender or recipient. In response, we approached Unilink, the provider of the Secure Payment Service, to discuss how the situation might be able to be improved for those held in private prisons.

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In an innovative partnership, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Oxford University and the Prison Reform Trust have come together to create new resources, including films and briefings, for criminal justice professionals to help improve their understanding of the impacts of maternal imprisonment.

It is estimated that 17,000 children every year are affected by maternal imprisonment in England and Wales. 95% (16,000) of these children are forced to leave their homes as their mother's imprisonment leaves them without an adult to take care of them.

Despite this, no government agency has responsibility for ensuring the welfare of these children is safeguarded and their rights are protected.

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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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Over the last 18 months Prison Reform Trust has been encouraged to discover a variety of peer led services which provide information to prisoners about rules and procedures in custody and which complement the work that our Advice and Information service delivers.  These services help people understand the experiences they are having in prison, who they can go to for support and how to challenge any treatment which they think is not fair or decent.  

By visiting and speaking to the staff and prisoners who are running these services we have collated examples of good practice and devised a step by step toolkit for setting up a peer led service information service in a prison. This has been supported by input from Prisoners' Advice Service and St Giles Trust who have a wealth of experience and expertise in this field.

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The Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Policy and Communications, Mark Day, yesterday took part in a discussion on the BBC Two Victoria Derbyshire programme on the damaging legacy of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). The BBC’s story, which was also covered by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, considered the case of James Ward, who in 2006 was given an IPP sentence with a 10-month tariff, but who 11 years later remains in custody. Commenting on the Today programme, the Chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, urged the government to “get a grip” on the issue by bringing forward measures to expedite the release of the remaining post-tariff IPP prisoners.

You can watch the feature on the Victoria Derbyshire programme here [starts 16.10]

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PRT comment: Farmer review

10/08/2017 00:01:00

Commenting on Lord Farmer's review on strengthening family ties in prison, Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"This in-depth report rightly recognises the vital importance of family ties to improving the mental health and wellbeing of people in prison and reducing their risk of reoffending on release. Lord Farmer has produced concise recommendations to put families at the heart of safe and constructive prison regimes. Particularly welcome is the proposal that each prison should have a clear, auditable and responsive 'gateway' communication system for families and significant others, so that concerns family members or others may have about the physical or mental health of a loved one in prison can be properly recorded and action taken. We hope this and the other sensible recommendations put forward in the report will be adopted and put swiftly into practice."

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Last Wednesday afternoon we were alerted by our partners in Scotland, Families Outside, to a problem with applications from prisoners’ families to the Assisted Prisons Visits Unit. A new online application system was not working and there appeared to be no way of making an application on paper. We spoke to Clinks, whose members were raising the issue with them too and sent a joint letter to the Prisons Minister at 10am on Thursday. By the afternoon we were pleased to have a response from the minister, Sam Gyimah, saying the system was up and running and families could continue to make paper applications if they wished.

We hope this intervention has resolved matters but of course what matters now is that the online process is reliable and that it really is possible for people who don’t have access to the internet to make their application on paper without being disadvantaged.

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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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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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