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Today's edition of the Guardian (3 May) reported that the Ministry of Justice has postponed the publication of its long awaited strategy for women offenders, according to a Whitehall source. The story was also covered by BBC Radio 4's World at One.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, to seek clarification and reassurance that the strategy will be published before Parliament's summer recess.

Click read more to view a copy of the letter and to read Peter's full comment

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Commenting on the government’s proposals announced today (28 April) for reform of the Parole Board, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“In calling for greater transparency and an appeal mechanism the Justice Secretary is pushing at a door his own department closed in the first place. The real scandal is that thousands of prisoners are still in prison many years beyond what their sentence required. That is because the prison and probation services between them have not come up with a plan for their safe release.

“A serious risk with these proposals is that without additional resource to back them we will see a return to lengthy parole delays which up until his forced resignation Nick Hardwick had been successful in tackling. Furthermore, without measures to guarantee the Board’s independence by establishing it as an independent court, there is a danger that decision making will become disproportionately risk averse.

“The Secretary of State needs to stop hiding behind the Parole Board and tackle the inadequacy of the prison and probation system for which he is personally accountable.”

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Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
 
“Despite a welcome reduction in the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison over the last year, all other safety indicators have once again set records for all the wrong reasons. Record levels of self-harming; record levels of assaults on prisoners; and record levels of assaults on staff show that violence and fear is the daily reality for many people in prison. Rebuilding officer numbers is the short term solution, but if we want to improve safety in the longer term we need to take the pressure off overstretched prisons by reducing prison numbers to a sustainable level.”

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A new report, jointly published today by the Prison Reform Trust and University of Leeds, examines sexual offending amongst people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Building on an expert, multi-sector seminar held in 2017, this new report provides a stimulus for further discussion, looking at the challenges faced both by the individuals themselves and the professionals and practitioners who work with them, suggesting practical ways forward and recommendations for improving outcomes.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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Commenting on the resignation of the chair of the Parole Board Nick Hardwick, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Nick Hardwick has made an important contribution to the work of the Parole Board and has been a vocal advocate for reform. His departure is a matter of real regret. The independence of the Parole Board is critical to its vital role in overseeing the safe release of prisoners, and Nick Hardwick is right to highlight the threats to its independence in his letter of resignation. It is a cornerstone of an independent parole system that decisions about the liberty of individuals should not be a matter for government ministers. In order to strengthen the confidence of the public, victims and prisoners in its work, our submission to the Parole review urges the government to establish the Parole Board as an independent legal tribunal, and make improvements to the transparency and accountability of the parole system as a whole."

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The Prison Reform Trust has written to David Gauke to submit evidence to the review of parole, announced by the Ministry of Justice in January. 

Those who live and work in our prisons will be only too familiar with the history of ill-judged policy responses prompted by high profile individual cases. So PRT’s evidence, prepared by Dr Thomas Guiney, a colleague at the Prison Reform Trust, and a leading authority on the history of parole in this country, proposes a measured set of recommendations designed to protect the parole process from improper political influence, while improving its transparency and effectiveness.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on incentivising and promoting good behaviour, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is a very important report, and especially timely given the justice secretary’s desire to use incentives to make prisons better. The core messages are simple and well known. Relationships hold the key, and those can only be built when prisoners are out of their cells and staff have the time to get to know them. Consistent and fair application of clear standards is essential. Release on temporary licence is seen by prisoners as the biggest long term incentive, but is grossly underused. 


“All of this holds true for adults as well as children, and ministers could not ask for a clearer explanation of why the overburdened adult estate is not delivering a safe and decent way of life in so many prisons. The investment all prisons need is in the time and skills to build relationships. Realistically, that has to mean an end to too many people going to prison for too long.” 

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PRT comment: HMP Altcourse

20/03/2018 10:14:00

Commenting on today's HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on HMP Altcourse, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"It’s heartening to see an optimistic inspection about a local prison. But the most important fact about HMP Altcourse isn’t mentioned in the report. It has a cost per place of over £67,000—more than double that of another G4S prison, Birmingham, about which inspectors have reached much less positive conclusions. With the Altcourse contract coming up for renewal in two years’ time, ministers need to decide whether to drive the price down, as they have across the public sector and in every recent competition. They should know by now what the consequences of doing so are likely to be.”


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Following correspondence with the chair of the independent review, Sir Simon Wessely, the Prison Reform Trust, Centre for Mental Health, and Together for Mental Wellbeing convened a meeting to provide a ‘criminal justice’ response to the review’s initial consultation. The meeting was chaired by Lord Bradley, and our response can be read by clicking here

In a follow up discussion with Sir Simon, we have agreed to convene a further meeting that will focus on people with a learning disability and/or autism in the criminal justice system, which will be held in April. 

Further information about the independent review can be found by clicking here.

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The government's consultation on domestic abuse, launched today, includes a welcome committment to £2 million of dedicated support for female offenders. Research collated by the Prison Reform Trust shows that 57% of women in prison report having been victims of domestic violence as adults. This is likely to be an underestimate.

Commenting, Jenny Earle, Director of PRT's programme to reduce women's imprisonment, said:

“We welcome the government’s recognition that coercive relationships can be a major driver to offending by women. It is time for concerted action to help women break the cycle of victimisation and offending that blights too many lives. The police, prosecutors, courts, probation services and the judiciary must work closely with women’s services to achieve the government’s aims of better outcomes for women and their families, and to reduce offending. The proposed Domestic Abuse Commissioner can play a key role in achieving a joined up approach to women who have been victims of much more serious offences than those for which they are commonly imprisoned.”


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