Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has written to Jo Farrar, CEO of HM Prison and Probation Service and Second Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, to highlight the confusion surrounding plans to reform prison conditions.

The Daily Mail reported last month that a Ministry of Justice “source” expected a White Paper on prisons to be published later this year, and offered a simplistic and misleading summary of what might be learned from the experience of prisoners over the last 15 months.

In the letter, Peter Dawson writes:

“We are only too pleased to work closely with officials as policy is developed…and in particular to help the department hear from prisoners. But we are deeply suspicious of these constructive and candid conversations being presented as a sufficient process to inform a White Paper on prisons, especially when the press is being fed what appears to be advance notice of a policy decision to reduce the time prisoners will spend unlocked."

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Prisoner numbers in England and Wales are projected to rise by one quarter (20,000) over the next five years. But there are no plans either to reduce overcrowding or close prisons that are clearly unfit for purpose. Efforts by the prison service to recover from the impact of the global pandemic will be fatally undermined as a result, according to a new report published today (5 July 2021) by the Prison Reform Trust. 

The report, Prison: the facts, highlights Ministry of Justice prison population projections that predict a rise to 98,700 people from the current level of 77,912 (4 June 2021) by 2026. This is due to the impact of inflationary sentencing policies, including proposals in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill currently before Parliament, the recruitment of 20,000 police officers, which is expected to increase charge volumes, and the recovery of the courts as Covid-19 restrictions subside.

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Commenting on the findings of the first annual report by the IMB specifically covering YOIs within England, PRT senior associate John Drew said:

"The IMB’s first annual report on conditions in children’s prisons unerringly demonstrates the harm done to children in prison during the Covid crises. An important lesson is that greater local freedom given to Governors from the outset would have meant that children were much less isolated and had better access to education.

"The IMB rightly notice more recent improvements while also identifying that the provision for children still falls well short of the minimum standards the government has previously set. The IMB also brings a fresh mind to the issue of mental health and highlights that the lack of secure mental heath facilities for children mean that many children are in custody who need specialist care in NHS facilities, much to the frustration of staff working in prisons."

Click here to read the full report

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Professor Hans Toch

24/06/2021 10:00:00

PRT staff members were saddened to hear of the death of Hans Toch, whose pioneering work inspired a generation of people committed to prison reform. Professor Toch’s writing reflected both a rigorous analysis and a humane and affirming spirit—a rare combination. He was one of the first to advocate for giving prisoners a voice in the running of a prison. His insightful explorations into prison reform, how to survive in prison, mental illness, and prison violence provided practical reforms that remain urgently needed. We who work for a fairer, more humane prison system are forever in his debt.

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PRT comment: ‘Time’

14/06/2021 16:40:00

Reacting to the new BBC drama ‘Time’, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“ ‘Time’ condenses a lot of experiences into one man’s story, but it is telling a fundamental truth about our prison system. Too many people—many of them very unwell—are being forced to live in overcrowded, dilapidated prisons. Years of political neglect have produced a system that makes life more dangerous both for those inside it and for the communities they will rejoin on release. This government, with its addiction to more prison, is making exactly the same mistake.”

Former Prison Reform Trust Trustee and Editor of Inside Time, Erwin James was also interviewed by The Sun, which you can read by clicking here.

Peter Dawson was interviewed for an opinion piece in The Guardian, which you can read by clicking here.

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Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has urged the government to take the necessary "political decision" to enable greater access to ICT in prisons.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Committee today (8 June) Peter Dawson said:

"There was a time when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have televisions in their cells. There was a time time very recently when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have phones in their cells, and now two-thirds of prisons have phones in cells.

"The use of technology goes so far beyond education. We're worried about people spraying Spice onto letters, you can't spray Spice onto an email but prisoners can't access electronic communication. The case has been made long ago, but it needs political will to make it happen."

Click here to catch up on the whole evidence session, and click here to read our written evidence to the committee's inquiry on prison education.

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The winner of this year’s prestigious Robin Corbett Award (RCA) is leading prisoner reintegration charity, StandOut. StandOut have been recognised by the RCA judging panel who were impressed by the way they see potential in those they work with and support returning citizens into employment.

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Eric McGraw

26/04/2021 14:30:00

The Prison Reform Trust is sad to learn of the death of Eric McGraw, founder of InsideTime, the  newspaper for people in prison, and its former managing editor. Launched in 1990, the newspaper is published monthly and distributed throughout the UK prison estate including Immigration Removal Centres and special hospitals.

It provides a vital voice for people in detention and their families, receiving some some 10,000 items of communication each year and 400,000 unique visitors to its website each month. Eric previously worked as a consultant for the United Nations Development Programme and is the author of several books and publications on the subject of ‘world population growth’ and its impact on poverty, development and the environment. Our thoughts are with Eric’s family and loved ones at this time.

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An analysis of the government’s Female Offender Strategy published today by the Prison Reform Trust shows the government has fully implemented only 31 of 65 commitments. The majority of the promises made in the strategy remain unachieved or partially achieved nearly three years after the strategy was published in June 2018.

The recent announcement of 500 new prison places in the women’s estate reverses a key aim of the strategy to reduce the women’s prison population. New places would not be needed if the strategy had been implemented successfully.

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The Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme is an effective tool for easing the transition from custody to the community as well as managing existing and future prison population pressures. However, its use is being hampered by overly restrictive eligibility criteria and inefficient systems, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust suggests.

Existing eligibility criteria include limiting its use to those serving sentences of four years or less and rigid exclusions based on previous breaches or recalls and offence history. These criteria are disproportionate and exclude large categories of prisoners who could potentially benefit from the scheme, the briefing says.

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