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The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the lives of prisoners, their families and those that work in prison. Widescale lockdown with people held in cells for up to 23 and a half hours a day, as well as the suspension of family visits since March have placed an immense strain on prisoners and their loved ones during this unprecedented time.

PRT has steadfastly continued its advocacy and influencing work throughout this period on behalf of those in prison. However, the true depth of what people in prison are currently experiencing is invisible behind the walls.

As we have found through our Prisoner Policy Network, learning lessons both now and for the future depends on listening to prisoners and sharing their experience and insight.

In response to this challenge, we have established an urgent new project—CAPPTIVE (The Covid Action Prison Project: Tracking Innovation, Valuing Experience). We want to hear from people in prison, and the people who care about them, about their own experience of the pandemic so far.

Click 'read more' to find out how you can get involved

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Commenting on the findings of today’s report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on women’s prisons during the Covid-19 period, Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager for reducing women's imprisonment at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This distressing report bears witness to a ‘failure of national planning’ by the government in its response to the threat of the pandemic in prisons, as well as the impact of cumulative failures to deliver on its Female Offender Strategy. Hardly any women have been released from these prisons under the government’s temporary release scheme, despite the fact that most women are imprisoned or remanded for minor non-violent offences. The suspension of family visits and delays in rolling out virtual visits are no doubt contributing to the increased levels of self- harm among the women in the prisons inspected.”

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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, warning that the current conditions that are said to have been containing the virus so far are unsustainable in the medium to longer term.

We have now received a response to our letter, which you can read by clicking here.

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Commenting on the publication of guidance outlining how the government plans to ease coronavirus-related restrictions in prisons, Peter Dawson, Director of Prison Reform Trust said:

“The pandemic continues to make massive demands on the endurance of the people who live and work in prison. What this roadmap misses out is the most important way in which politicians could actually reduce those demands. Above all, the system needs to be caring for fewer people. But maintaining prison capacity is put on the same level as preserving life. What that means in practice is that ministers are putting a desire to continue locking people up on a par with saving life in prison. That can’t be right.”

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

“This report highlights the government s failure to support the often heroic efforts of staff and prisoners to stay safe during the pandemic. An effective early release plan would have freed up capacity in the estate to maintain social distancing while ensuring the basics of a humane and decent regime. But only a handful of prisoners have been released under the restrictive measures the government has introduced.

“This has left prisons such as Coldingley resorting to the routine use of buckets in cells, and consigning prisoners to sit in accommodation for 23 hours a day which ought to have been decommissioned long ago. This approach is simply not sustainable. The worrying levels of violence observed in two of the three prisons is a troubling indicator of the toll the situation is taking on the wellbeing of prisoners and staff. Ministers must now act decisively to give prisons the headroom they need.”

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PRT comment: Hidden Harms Summit

21/05/2020 15:50:00

Commenting on today’s announcement by the government ahead of the Hidden Harms Summit, Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We welcome the Hidden Harms initiative and the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘support the most vulnerable and keep them safe from harm and exploitation’.

“Official figures show that nearly 60% of women in prison are victims/survivors of domestic abuse and this is likely to be an underestimate. Far from helping them, the state often compounds their victimisation. Many have been driven to offend by their experience of abuse. Yet while victims of trafficking rightly have a statutory defence where they are compelled to offend, there is no such legal protection for domestic abuse survivors. The government should use the Domestic Abuse Bill to modernise the law by providing equivalent legal defences.”

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

“This important report shows why there is absolutely no room for complacency about the crisis in our prisons. People are sharing cells with someone who might or might not be carrying the virus. They are spending weeks on end in an overcrowded cell for 23 and a half hours a day. Some sick prisoners have gone a fortnight without a shower. Prison managers, staff and prisoners have worked together to make the best of an impossible situation. They all deserve praise for doing so.

“By contrast, ministers have not done all they could to help. These three prisons are still overcrowded, but just one person has been released early to make space. To make matters worse, a much larger number of people are still being recalled to serve just a few days inside, despite the obvious risks. The current situation is obviously not sustainable, and will stop making sense as restrictions in the community start to ease and receptions into prison increase. It’s time for ministers to step up and end the overcrowding which turns a difficult situation into a dangerous one.”

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The two leading prison reform groups in the country have today (6 May) published more than a dozen key documents that shed further light on the government’s response to coronavirus in prisons in England and Wales.

Lawyers for the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice last month, threatening legal action over the government’s failure to release more people from prison during the pandemic. Now the charities have been granted permission by the government to publish its reply, including enclosures that provide more information about developments in the situation behind bars and the advice given to ministers.

At the same time, the charities have written another letter to the Secretary of State, warning that the current conditions that are said to have been containing the virus so far are unsustainable in the medium to longer term.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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Commenting on the announcement today by the Ministry of Justice, Jenny Earle Women’s Programme Director for Prison Reform Trust said:

“Whilst any additional funding to divert vulnerable women from the criminal justice system is welcome, £2.5m for women’s support services will have to be very thinly spread if it is to include establishing a residential women’s centre in Wales. The government needs to confirm adequate sustainable funding for struggling women’s services, now more critical than ever to ensuring hard-pressed police, courts and prisons have somewhere safe and effective to refer women for help in turning their lives around.”

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As part of the Prison Reform Trust's continuing efforts to scrutinise the government's response to managing Covid-19 in our prisons, our director Peter Dawson has submitted his latest evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee today.

PRT continues to share evidence with the committee, drawn from our contact with people in prison and those working to support them during this exceptionally difficult time, in addition to our policy and advocacy work to improve public transparency in the government's advice and decision making.

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