Overcrowding

An explosion in the use of indeterminate sentences and the increased use of long determinate sentences are key drivers behind the near doubling of prison numbers in the past two decades. The latest edition of the Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, published today (30 November) by the Prison Reform Trust, reveals the cost of our addiction to imprisonment in wasted time, money and lives.

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Reforming our prisons

16/11/2015 11:54:00

As we begin Prisons Week (15–21 November) Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, has written an article in this month's edition of The Friend magazine. You can read the full article by clicking 'read more'.

“Prison is a place where people are sent as a punishment, not for further punishments...Human beings whose lives have been reckoned so far in costs—to society, to the criminal justice system, to victims and to themselves—can become assets—citizens who can contribute and demonstrate the human capacity for redemption.”

These were the words of the incoming Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, in July this year. For Friends, and others with a longstanding commitment to prison reform, this was a welcome reassertion of the principles which should underpin any civilised penal system. So far so good. However, the Justice Secretary has inherited a system that is deteriorating both on internal and external measures, and a requirement to carve anything from 25% to 40% out of its budget over the next five years.

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Commenting on today’s (9 November 2015) announcement that the Ministry of Justice will build nine new prisons, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The Justice Secretary’s commitment to better conditions and more effective rehabilitation are welcome. Many of our prisons need to be shut down.

"But prison reform is about more than replacing old buildings.  The crisis he faces now is with prisons that have deteriorated sharply as budgets have been slashed and staff numbers cut. Pressure on the system has to be relieved by revising the sentencing framework and curbing ever lengthening sentence lengths , investing now in diverting addicts and people with mental health needs into treatment and dealing with the forgotten thousands of prisoners still held long beyond terms set by courts.

"To live within his means, Michael Gove needs to close many more prisons than he builds. He can do that safely and the time has come to set out how.”

You can also read our response to the Spending Review by clicking here.

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Commenting on the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons annual report 2014-15, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“No mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff. Solutions lie in good strong leadership from the new Secretary of State through to prison governors, a commitment to treat people in prison with humanity and respect and a determination to make prison an effective place of last resort.”

Read the report by clicking here

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A rapid expansion in the prison population in England and Wales over the past twenty years is placing a growing burden on the taxpayer while reoffending rates out of prison have remained stubbornly high, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust.

Analysis published in Prison: The Facts estimates that in 2014 the cost of holding that increased population at today’s costs was an extra £1.22bn compared with twenty years ago—a cost of over £40 per year for every UK taxpayer.

This extra funding of prison places is equivalent to employing an additional 56,000 newly qualified nurses.

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Twenty five years after the Strangeways riot began on 1 April 1990, chronic overcrowding driven by a near doubling of the prison population over the past two decades continues to undermine standards of decency in prisons and restrict opportunities for rehabilitation, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust. 

Lord Woolf’s subsequent inquiry into the causes of the disturbances constituted a wide-ranging examination of conditions in Britain’s prisons and represents the most important analysis of the penal system for the past 100 years.

Strangeways 25 years on: achieving fairness and justice in our prisonsassesses progress made against Lord Woolf’s 12 main recommendations for a more fair and just prison system. It says that many of the factors which contributed to the unrest have resurfaced today. Although the Prison Service is better able today to ensure control and security, this has threatened to set back decades of painstaking progress it has made to improve treatment and conditions.

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A prison system built to hold young men is struggling to cope with the rapidly growing numbers of old, sick and disabled people behind bars, a new Prison Reform Trust report, supported by the Bromley Trust, reveals.

The report, launched at HMP Brixton today (Tuesday 28 October), comes the day before the Prisons Minister Andrew Selous MP is due to give evidence on older prisoners to the Justice Select Committee.

People aged 60 and over and those aged 50–59 are the first and second fastest growing age groups in the prison population. Between 2002 and 2014 there was an increase of 146% and 122% in the number of prisoners held in those age groups respectively. On 31 March 2014 there were 102 people in prison aged 80 and over. Five people in prison were 90 or older.

Ever-lengthening sentences mean people in prison are growing old and frail with high rates of unmet social care and support needs. Two in five (37%) of those over the age of 50 in prison have a disability.

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PRT letters in the press

15/10/2014 17:57:00

The Prison Reform Trust has had letters published in two national broadsheets, the Guardian, about a recent IMB report on Wormwood Scrubs, and the Daily Telegraph about proposals to build the largest children's prison in Europe. 

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Figures released today by the Ministry of Justice paint a complex picture of a prison service making heroic strides in some areas while struggling to cope with the impact of rising prison numbers and dramatic cuts to prison staff and budgets.

Commenting, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The tragic rise in the numbers of self-inflicted deaths in custody is the most vivid of the flashing warning signs of a prison service placed under unprecedented strain. Ministers must heed and not dismiss what the facts and figures are telling them. Slashing prison budgets while warehousing ever greater numbers in larger prisons overseen by fewer and less experienced staff is no way to transform rehabilitation.

“Good people have worked hard year on year to make prisons safer and more constructive places. In less than two years of thoughtless change and headline-grabbing policy, sharply rising levels of suicide and violence show just how far their work has been set back.”

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The warning by the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick of a “political and policy failure” in prisons is(see also PRT's lead letter in The Times)  backed by the findings of a recent Prison Reform Trust report which shows a system under significant strain with high levels of overcrowding, fewer staff, worsening safety, and fewer opportunities for rehabilitation.

In the past five weeks the prison population has increased by 734 people – the size of a large prison - and now stands at 84,533.

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