Healthcare

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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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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The Prison Reform Trust and Howard League for Penal Reform have written to Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, following his response on 1 June.

The letter warns that whilst things have moved on considerably in the community since we last wrote, for the 80,000 men, women and children in prison, life has not changed significantly since the lockdown regime was introduced on 24 March 2020, some 80 days ago.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The combined efforts of the people who live and work in our prisons have so far contained outbreaks of Covid 19. But the price has been 3 months of unregulated solitary confinement for two thirds of prisoners. That can’t continue, especially as restrictions outside prisons are eased. Ministers must set a new and more humane minimum standard below which the treatment of a fellow human being cannot fall.”

Click here to read a copy of the letter

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The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the lives of prisoners, their families and those that work in prison. Widescale lockdown with people held in cells for up to 23 and a half hours a day, as well as the suspension of family visits since March have placed an immense strain on prisoners and their loved ones during this unprecedented time.

PRT has steadfastly continued its advocacy and influencing work throughout this period on behalf of those in prison. However, the true depth of what people in prison are currently experiencing is invisible behind the walls.

As we have found through our Prisoner Policy Network, learning lessons both now and for the future depends on listening to prisoners and sharing their experience and insight.

In response to this challenge, we have established an urgent new project—CAPPTIVE (The Covid Action Prison Project: Tracking Innovation, Valuing Experience). We want to hear from people in prison, and the people who care about them, about their own experience of the pandemic so far.

Click 'read more' to find out how you can get involved

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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, warning that the current conditions that are said to have been containing the virus so far are unsustainable in the medium to longer term.

We have now received a response to our letter, which you can read by clicking here.

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Commenting on the publication of guidance outlining how the government plans to ease coronavirus-related restrictions in prisons, Peter Dawson, Director of Prison Reform Trust said:

“The pandemic continues to make massive demands on the endurance of the people who live and work in prison. What this roadmap misses out is the most important way in which politicians could actually reduce those demands. Above all, the system needs to be caring for fewer people. But maintaining prison capacity is put on the same level as preserving life. What that means in practice is that ministers are putting a desire to continue locking people up on a par with saving life in prison. That can’t be right.”

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The two leading prison reform groups in the country have today (6 May) published more than a dozen key documents that shed further light on the government’s response to coronavirus in prisons in England and Wales.

Lawyers for the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice last month, threatening legal action over the government’s failure to release more people from prison during the pandemic. Now the charities have been granted permission by the government to publish its reply, including enclosures that provide more information about developments in the situation behind bars and the advice given to ministers.

At the same time, the charities have written another letter to the Secretary of State, warning that the current conditions that are said to have been containing the virus so far are unsustainable in the medium to longer term.

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As part of the Prison Reform Trust's continuing efforts to scrutinise the government's response to managing Covid-19 in our prisons, our director Peter Dawson has submitted his latest evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee today.

PRT continues to share evidence with the committee, drawn from our contact with people in prison and those working to support them during this exceptionally difficult time, in addition to our policy and advocacy work to improve public transparency in the government's advice and decision making.

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"I understand the disappointment at our decision not to take the government to court. Fundamentally, our case was that we believed the Lord Chancellor was ignoring advice that around 15,000 prisoners needed to be released in the interests of safety. What we have discovered through the action is that the situation is fluid and that the Government’s current position is informed by the public health advice that was published last Friday. Our lawyers have therefore advised that the most effective way forward at this time is to continue to apply pressure.

"We are not giving up. Managing the pandemic in prisons puts enormous strain on those who live and work in our prisons, and those who care for them. The need for there to be many fewer people in prison will not change and we will continue to make that case. The information we have gained this week because of the threat of legal action will be crucial in doing that. But we have to do it in the way we think is most likely to get the right result."

Peter Dawson
Director

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