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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, to highlight our shared concerns that people in prison continue to be held in conditions which are inhumane and untenable.

Most people in prison are either in prolonged solitary confinement or in overcrowded conditions. Despite the additional resources that have been given to prisons to cope with the crisis, each and every report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons has painted a clear, bleak picture: prisons are devoid of purposeful activity and opportunities for people to make amends.

We have now received a response to our letter.

Click 'read more' to see a copy of his letter and a comment from our director, Peter Dawson.

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PRT comment: Prison building

29/06/2020 11:30:00

Commenting on the re-announcement that four new prisons are to be built in the next six years, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"These prisons have already been announced, and fruitless work has been underway to 'identify locations' for new prisons since 2012. But rehashing this tired old announcement as part of a plan for economic recovery is not only poor politics. It’s poor policymaking when the government’s punitive sentencing policies mean that, if they are ever built, these places will be quickly filled and nothing in the rest of the prison estate will change.

"The Public Accounts Committee is taking evidence on a report from the National Audit Office that laid bare the total absence of a coherent plan for prisons. Nothing has changed. An effective prison strategy has to manage demand as well as supply. It must reduce the numbers needlessly in custody. Only then can the government close the crumbling establishments and end the overcrowded conditions which shame us as a country."

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Commenting on the findings of today’s report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This report shows just how self-defeating the government’s obstinate refusal to contemplate early release for some prisoners has become. Open prisons hold many people who had been working in the community before the pandemic struck—contributing to the economy and re-establishing the links that lead to a crime free life. But rather than release these people, the government has kept them cooped up doing nothing. Incredibly, ministers are paying for new temporary accommodation as well, all for people who could quite safely not be there at all.”

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Commenting on the proposals in Charlie Taylor’s review of the use of pain-inducing techniques during restraint in the secure estate for children that was published on the 18th June, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“We welcome the decision to remove pain-inducing restraint from the MMPR syllabus. But the issue has been dogged by long delays, so absolute clarity is needed on the government’s position in relation to all the Taylor recommendations. That means prompt public commitments to what action will be taken and by when, and those are noticeably missing from the government’s accompanying response. Above all, the chronic overuse of pain inducing techniques has to stop—independent, transparent oversight is key, and the government’s apparent equivocation on that issue is a cause for concern.”

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EQUAL—a National Independent Advisory Group that works collaboratively to address the poorer outcomes experienced by BAME and Muslim people in the criminal justice system—has written to prisons minister Lucy Frazer today to express its concerns about the roll out of PAVA incapacitant spray.

The letter highlights the inadequacy of current safeguards to prevent the disproportionate use of PAVA against against BAME people in prison, as well as the persistent, unexplained, problem of racially disproportionate use of force in prisons.

Click here to read a copy of the letter.

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The Prison Reform Trust is delighted to be one of two charities that Uber has chosen to support for their work in promoting equality and social justice. We are pleased to be receiving this recognition from Uber alongside the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. The award of £20,000 will support our work on the Prisoner Policy Network, with a specific focus on helping develop the skills of people within BAME communities in prisons to contribute to policy development and advocacy. Uber has written a blog about the award on its website which you can read by clicking here.

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

“We’re delighted to have this new relationship with Uber. For many people, prisoners are out of sight and out of mind. They may not feel much sympathy for them. But something is seriously wrong when our prisons are disproportionately filled by people of colour, people denied an education and people suffering mental ill health. We all have an interest in prisons becoming places where people start to build themselves a better future. This support will help us to help prisoners themselves make the case for reform, and to change prisons from within.”

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Commenting on the announcement by Robert Buckland that probation services will return to public control, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The new structure announced for probation has the advantage of simplicity, at least relative to the byzantine arrangements it replaces. But anyone expecting a significant impact on reoffending as a result should contain their optimism. Mandatory supervision for everyone released from prison, no matter how short their sentence, has resulted principally in an explosion in recalls to prison. As our report “Broken Trust” revealed, people often conceal their needs from probation staff for fear of being recalled. It matters little to the person needing help whether their supervising officer is a civil servant or the employee of a private company if that help isn’t forthcoming. Far from being slowed down, the revolving door has been given an extra shove.

"For probation to work, local partnerships are essential. That will be with the voluntary sector organisations that command the personal trust that statutory bodies often do not. It will be with housing providers, local authorities and local employers. It will be with the police and health services. None of those relationships can be created in a central government department. They all require confidence that organisations will be stable and their leadership sufficiently autonomous to offer the sharing of resources that underpin effective multi agency work.

"The role of central government in probation in recent years has been entirely destructive. Whether that continues to be the case will depend on whether the ministry has the humility and good sense to devolve power to a local level. That rarely comes naturally to central governments of any persuasion. It’s too early to tell how this one will behave.”

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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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Trust highlights urgent concerns over impact of PAVA spray on BAME prisoners and potential spread of Covid-19

The Prison Reform Trust has issued an urgent call for the government to reverse its decision to roll out PAVA spray to all staff trained in its use in prisons on the adult male closed estate.

The government’s unexpected decision, which was made public in a letter to stakeholders on 18 May, goes against a previous commitment made in April to pause the roll out of the controversial weapon in prisons for three months as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the prisons minister Lucy Frazer published today (Saturday 13 June), the Trust highlights concerns regarding the disproportionate impact of the roll out on the 27% of prisoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and the potential risk of contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

Click 'read more' for the full story

You can also find out more about our work on PAVA over the last two years by clicking here.

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The Prison Reform Trust has co-signed a letter to CEO of HM Prison and Probation Service, Dr Jo Farrar today, calling for practical and visible action to tackle the discrimination that many people from minority communities are experiencing and have experienced for many years.

The letter, sent as part of PRT's membership of the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19, includes a briefing prepared by a small group of BAME led organisations at the request of the group. It makes a series of practical suggestions for how the recovery process in prisons and probation can meet its obligations to people from minority communities who are so disproportionately disadvantaged in our current criminal justice system.

The task of eradicating discrimination based on race and ethnicity belongs to all of us. It requires leadership from those who hold power and influence now, not just those from minority communities who have for so long struggled to fill those positions or command that influence. They, and the organisations that know them best, are looking for evidence that they have been heard.

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