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Twenty five years after the Strangeways riot began on 1 April 1990, chronic overcrowding driven by a near doubling of the prison population over the past two decades continues to undermine standards of decency in prisons and restrict opportunities for rehabilitation, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust. 

Lord Woolf’s subsequent inquiry into the causes of the disturbances constituted a wide-ranging examination of conditions in Britain’s prisons and represents the most important analysis of the penal system for the past 100 years.

Strangeways 25 years on: achieving fairness and justice in our prisonsassesses progress made against Lord Woolf’s 12 main recommendations for a more fair and just prison system. It says that many of the factors which contributed to the unrest have resurfaced today. Although the Prison Service is better able today to ensure control and security, this has threatened to set back decades of painstaking progress it has made to improve treatment and conditions.

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Commenting on the Justice Committee’s report on Prison: planning and policies, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 

“Written in moderate terms, this devastating report is a powerful indictment of this government’s complacent and dismissive attitude to rapidly deteriorating standards and safety in our prisons over the last two years. Soaring levels of violence, a one hundred percent increase in acts of concerted indiscipline, shocking rates of suicide and self-harm, chronic and growing overcrowding, a slump in purposeful activity, dangerously low staffing levels and plummeting staff morale reveal a prison service under unprecedented strain. There is a threshold beneath which it is no longer possible to maintain a safe and decent environment. This report reveals that we are at that threshold.

“The Justice Committee offers footholds for a fresh and effective approach to prison policy and planning. Re-evaluating the use of prison and alternatives to custody would enable an incoming government to end the one-size-fits-all model of prison building and introduce smaller units for women and young people; pay proper attention to an aging prison population; and improve resettlement through better application of technology and the sensible use of release on temporary licence and the open estate. A decent, humane prison system must be underpinned by an experienced and valued workforce, proper discretion for prison governors, an end to ministerial interference in operational matters and a truly independent prisons inspectorate accountable directly to Parliament.

“An incoming administration in May 2015 must not accept this deterioration in prison standards and conditions as the new normal. Restoring prison to its proper function as an important place of last resort in a balanced justice system is the basis on which to create a just, fair and effective penal system.”

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Commenting on today’s (10 March) Prisons and Probation Ombudsman report into self-inflicted deaths of prisoners 2013/14, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"People are sent to prison to lose their liberty, not their lives. Despite significant efforts by staff over the last decade to tackle suicides and self-harm it appears that this good work is in danger of being undermined and driven backwards. The Ombudsman’s report shows that the good work of first night centres and thought through induction procedures must be maintained and developed, not discarded. The Ministry of Justice should conduct an urgent review to ensure that prisons don’t slide into pits of hopelessness and despair. Lessons must be learned once and for all from this tragic rise in deaths in custody."

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The Safer Living Foundation has won the Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation 2015. This innovative charity based at HMP Whatton works with sex offenders in prison and on release into the community to help reduce the risk of reoffending and prevent people becoming victims of sexual harm.
 
The second prize was awarded to Changing Paths Charitable Trust based at HMP Rochester. This small and ambitious charity provides work training and support and has placed nearly 400 offenders from all over the south east and London in to employment in the construction, retail and catering industries.

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Last week’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on prisoners’ voting reinforces previous judgments of the Court that the UK’s blanket ban on sentenced prisoners voting is unlawful.

But with three months to go before the UK general election, it’s clear that the government would rather flout human rights law, ignore the advice of prison governors, bishops to, and inspectors of, prisons and take up Parliamentary time and taxpayers’ money in order to stop sentenced prisoners from acting responsibly by voting in democratic elections.

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Disproportionate restrictions on the temporary release of prisoners are undermining opportunities for effective resettlement and rehabilitation and leading to growing frustration and resentment behind bars, a new report by the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

For many people in prison, particularly those who are serving long sentences, the chance to experience ROTL and open prison conditions are a pivotal part of the process of rehabilitation. They allow people to take responsibility through work and volunteering, establish contact with families and sort out housing needs; factors which contribute to their safe management and supervision in the community on release.

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Fewer than one in 10 women released from a prison sentence of under 12 months managed to secure a ‘positive employment outcome’ within a year of release. This is three times worse than the equivalent figure for men, a new briefing published by the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

Welcome moves announced today (Thursday 29 January) by the Justice Minister Simon Hughes to prioritise women’s community provision and improve employment opportunities for women offenders need to be accelerated if women’s offending is to be effectively tackled.

Nearly half (45%) of women leaving prison are reconvicted within one year of release. Employment is vital to reducing risk of reoffending, but women offenders often face additional barriers to gaining work, including a lack of childcare support, lack of qualifications, low pay and the stigma of imprisonment.

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The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Justice, delivered a keynote address at an event jointly hosted by the Prison Reform Trust and Centre for Social Justice on Monday 26 January. You can read a copy of the speech by clicking 'read more'.

The Prison Reform Trust in partnership with leading thinktanks has provided platforms to the three main political parties for them to outline their justice proposals ahead of the 2015 general election. PRT believes there is scope for political consensus on prison reform. Parties wish to see decent, fair and purposeful prisons, a reduction in women's imprisonment, liaison and diversion services for people with mental health needs or learning disabilities and increased use of restorative justice.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP set out Labour prisons policy last year at an event hosted by PRT and IPPR. You can read his speech by clicking here. Liberal Democrat justice minister, Simon Hughes MP, also delivered a speech at an event hosted with CentreForum which you can read by clicking here.

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Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, gave evidence to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry 'prisons in Wales and treatment of Welsh offenders’ on Tuesday 13 January, the evidence session examined the ill thought through plans to build a new super-sized 2,000 place prison in Wrexham. PRT’s written evidence to the committee said that the plans are unlikely to bring the benefits to the Welsh economy that have been claimed, and are instead an English solution to an English problem.

The Committee considered the recommendation of the Silk Commission to devolve youth justice. It examined how the National Offender Management Service and Welsh Government can hold people closer to their families and support networks, improve resettlement for people returning to Wales and increase cooperation between devolved and non-devolved bodies in meeting the needs of Welsh offenders.

You can read the evidence by clicking here, or you can watch the session by clicking here. You can also read our written evidence submitted to the committee by clicking here. Coverage of the evidence session can also be read by clicking here.

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Too many women in the UK are still being sent to prison instead of receiving community sanctions and targeted support to address the causes of their offending, according to a leading women’s voluntary organisation.

The women’s prison population doubled between 1995 and 2010. Most women in prison serve short prison sentences for non-violent offences and many have themselves been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. In 2011 the Soroptimist UK Programme Action Committee resolved to work with the Prison Reform Trust to reduce women’s imprisonment.

Now a wealth of information gathered by 139 Soroptimists clubs across the UK has been distilled into a report that is intended to spur national and local governments into action. The report recommends the development in England and Wales of a cross-government strategy for women’s justice, led by the Minister for Female Offenders. Recommendations for improvements to the oversight of women’s justice in Scotland and Northern Ireland are also highlighted.

Download the report by clicking here.

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