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Only one in 100 prisoners who made an allegation of discrimination against prison staff had their case upheld by the prison. By contrast, three in four staff (76%) reports of alleged discrimination by a prisoner were upheld, an in-depth research report by the Zahid Mubarek Trust and the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

The report finds that the system for handling discrimination complaints in prisons is neither fair nor impartial, does not have the confidence of prisoners, and is failing to provide prisons with the opportunity to learn and provide more equitable treatment. As prisons struggle to cope with increasing violence and fewer officers, equality has slipped down the priority list.

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The Prison Reform Trust has published a briefing ahead of the House of Commons Committee Stage to assist Parliamentarians in their detailed scrutiny of the bill, which also outlines key amendments which we support. You can read the briefing by clicking here.

The House of Commons second reading debate took place on Monday 20 March, and the Prison Reform Trust also produced a briefing, which you can download by clicking here. You can also catch up on the second reading debate by clicking here to watch, or clicking here to read.

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

"It is 65 years since it last happened, so the publication of a Prisons Bill is obviously an important moment. There is plenty to welcome—especially a statutory commitment to rehabilitation. But the Bill is also notable for what it does not contain—for example, nothing to control the demand for prison and no mention of decency or justice as the foundations of a rehabilitative system. 

"We will do everything we can to help parliament turn this bill into a genuinely reforming Act, making sure that: the purposes of prison are comprehensive; a mechanism exists to translate those purposes into standards approved by parliament and in line with our international obligations; and the institutions that hold the Secretary of State to account are properly independent of her and her department."

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Commenting on today's report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a heartbreaking report. Following public outcry more than 10 years ago, lessons looked like they had been learned. However this rapid reversal is yet another symptom of a system under more pressure than it can bear. The promised strategy for women offenders needs to set out how a much higher proportion of this intensely vulnerable group of women can be diverted from the criminal justice system altogether. There is rare political consensus for a radically different approach, and the government must seize the opportunity it presents to save lives in future.”

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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

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New research published today by the Prison Reform Trust reveals significant variations in how police forces deal with women who come into the criminal justice system. Fair Cop? Improving outcomes for women at the point of arrest provides solutions and examples of positive work being delivered by police to tackle low level, non-violent crime committed by women. However, the report also found that opportunities are being missed to intervene early, reduce women’s offending and protect the public.

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Scotland has one of the highest rates of women’s imprisonment in northern Europe, a new report published today (8 March) on international women's day by the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

The report found that for every 100,000 women in Scotland, seven are held in prison, considerably higher than most countries in northern Europe, and more than double the rate in France (3.3 per 100,000).

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Bristol-based charity Life Cycle UK has won the Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation 2017. Its innovative “Bike Back” project at HMP Bristol recreates the environment of a working bike shop in a prison. Here, an experienced mechanic, supported by skilled volunteers, teaches up to eight prisoners at a time (around 40 per year) the skills to completely refurbish broken bikes donated by the local community.

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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."

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We have submitted a very detailed response to the inspectorate's consultation on a new expectations for male prisoners document. In the absence of a modern statutory penal code, these expectations are perhaps the most important protection prisoners have for their fundamental rights. 

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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.

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