Commenting on today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Justice that 5,000 new prison places are to be built, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
“This massive investment in new prisons is not matched by a credible plan to reduce our reckless overuse of prison in the first place. The prison estate certainly needs an overhaul, but reducing demand would mean closing prisons, not opening them. The government has admitted that it has no idea when overcrowding will cease, and this announcement takes us no closer to an answer to that crucial question.
“To ensure effective parliamentary scrutiny of the government's plans for prison reform, we urgently need to see a comprehensive plan for the whole prison estate—showing how demand will be reduced and closing prisons we no longer need as a result. It should include when overcrowding will end, how far prisoners’ families will be expected to travel for visits, and when every prison will be equipped to the same modern standard to do the same job of rehabilitation.”
Photo: Stacey Oliver
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."
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.
The 30 most overcrowded prisons in England and Wales are twice as likely to be rated as failing by the prison service compared with prisons overall, a new analysis published with the latest annual edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, kindly supported by the Bromley Trust, reveals.
The new analysis of Ministry of Justice prison population and prison performance ratings by the Prison Reform Trust suggests that overcrowding is undermining the resilience of establishments and their ability to maintain safety and decency in the face of steep cuts to staffing and resources.
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Ahead of today's government announcement on prison reform, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“The time for aspirational rhetoric on prisons is over. We expect a White Paper that promises concrete standards, approved by Parliament, against which the Government must deliver, and a boost in resources to make that possible. All of that will be welcome. But the legacy is twenty five years of political failure to grip prison inflation and chronic overcrowding. Liz Truss will have to overturn that inheritance, and urgently reduce the demand for prison places, to make her plan work.”
The prison population in England and Wales has gone over 85,000 after an increase of more than 1,000 people from the beginning of September, statistics published today (28 October) by the Ministry of Justice reveal.
The number of people in prison now stands at 85,108. On 2 September the figure was 84,066.
While prison numbers tend to fluctuate during the course of a year, the rapid increase is unusual, and will have placed additional pressure on an already overcrowded and overstretched prison system experiencing record levels of violence, self-harm, and self-inflicted deaths.
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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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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.
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.
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