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Commenting on the HM Inspectorate of Probation report on Post-release supervision for short-term prisoners: the work undertaken by Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The chief inspector could not be clearer in her assessment of the failure of compulsory post-release supervision for short sentenced prisoners. While the reforms appear to have had no discernible impact on reoffending, recall rates have rocketed, disrupting lives and placing unnecessary pressure on an already overcrowded and overstretched prison system. Since its introduction, recall rates for men have increased by 29%, while for women they have risen by a shocking 166%.

“The justice secretary has signalled his willingness to follow the evidence by bringing offender management back into the public sector. He should now follow the advice of his chief inspector by ending the unfair and disproportionate mandatory supervision of short sentenced prisoners. Delivering on his aim of abolishing short prison sentences altogether would be the best and simplest solution. He also needs to persuade his colleagues around the cabinet table to invest in the housing, health and welfare support that could actually make the difference in reoffending rates that has so obviously eluded the government so far.”

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Commenting on today’s announcement (17 May) by the Scottish Government that an affirmative order has been published to extend the existing presumption from three to 12 months, Alex Hewson, Senior Policy and Communications Officer at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Today’s announcement is a welcome step in reducing our reliance on ineffective short prison sentences. It’s grounded in the evidence, and is a critical part of wider efforts to deliver more effective responses to crime that benefit society, and those convicted. The Scottish Government’s approach recognises that success depends on sustained investment in effective and credible alternatives to custody and services that help people to turn their lives around. Whilst Ministers in England and Wales continue to consider the introduction of a similar scheme, Scotland moves one step further ahead.”

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Commenting on today’s announcement (16 May) by the Ministry of Justice that National Probation Service will take over responsibility for all offender management, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“David Gauke’s pragmatism offers hope that the damage done to the probation system by his predecessor can eventually be repaired. Courts are crying out for a simpler system in which they can have confidence. In legislating to make these sensible changes, the Justice Secretary should take the opportunity to implement his policy to abolish pointless  short custodial sentences. He can bring to an end the nonsense of people being subject to compulsory post release supervision, which has led to an explosion in the number of people recalled to custody but done nothing to reduce re-offending.”

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Women with learning disabilities are at risk of becoming drawn into the criminal justice system due to failures to recognise their disability and a lack of appropriate support, according to a new report published today by the Prison Reform Trust, produced in collaboration with KeyRing Living Support Networks.

The report, Out of the Shadows, draws on the experiences of 24 women with learning disabilities in contact with, or on the edges of, the criminal justice system; and practitioners working within criminal justice, social care, and women’s services. Abuse by men lay behind the offending behaviour of most of the participating women.

The report gives a voice to women with learning disabilities, enabling them to talk about their experiences. This includes not understanding the implications of their behaviour and failure to comply with imposed sanctions; their histories as victims of violent and abusive behaviour; and enforced separation from their children, bewilderment and a sense of injustice.

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A new analysis of court data published today by the Prison Reform Trust has found significant variations in imprisonment rates for women between police force areas in England and Wales.

The average imprisonment rate for women in England is 30 per 100,000, and in Wales 48 per 100,000.

Cleveland has the highest imprisonment rate in England and Wales at 67 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 this region saw an increase of 22% in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

By contrast, Greater Manchester, where there is a co-ordinated strategy involving the local authority, police diversion, a problem solving court and women’s support services, has an imprisonment rate of 25 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 it saw a decrease of 33% in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

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Commenting on the latest Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody Statistics published today (25 April), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“These numbers show that there is a very long way to go before our prison system is safe for the people who live and work in it. The rise in self-inflicted deaths is especially concerning.

“Everyone will hope that the modest improvement in both self-harm and assault figures in the most recent quarter may be the start of a trend, although it is far too early to say. But it would be a mistake, when a change may have started to happen, to put that at risk. Rolling out the deployment of PAVA spray to all prison officers will undermine the relationships between staff and prisoners on which all aspects of safety ultimately depend.”

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Everyone knows that violence in prison has got much, much worse over the last 5 years or so. The statistics are alarming – every quarterly publication describes a new record level of assaults against both prisoners and staff. Violence is both more frequent and more severe. It’s not surprising that people in prison, whether they live there or work there, say “something must be done”.

Writing for the prison newspaper Inside Time, Prison Reform Trust Director, Peter Dawson examines the case for a rethink on the introduction of PAVA spray.

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Commenting on the Justice Committee's report Prison Population 2022: Planning for the Future, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This thorough report represents a welcome outbreak of cross party common sense about a complex problem. It should lay to rest once and for all the idea that governments can build their way out of the prisons crisis. And it rightly focuses on the need to implement ambitious policies rather than just announce more of them.

“There is unanimous endorsement of the government’s wish to abolish pointless short prison sentences. The committee also supports the justice secretary’s call for a bigger public conversation about how we punish the most serious crime.

“There could not be a more comprehensive demolition of our national obsession with imprisonment, fed by governments of all colours for more than two decades. The current government’s response must now recognise the need for fundamental change.”

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Home Office proposals to create knife crime prevention orders, which are due to be debated by MPs for the first time on Tuesday 26 March, could criminalise thousands of children who are themselves victims of slavery, trafficking or criminal exploitation.

A joint briefing by the Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, sent to MPs ahead of the House of Commons debate, warns that there are insufficient safeguards built into the proposed legislation to ensure that the full circumstances of the child are taken into account by the police applying for the orders and the court before an order is imposed.

As well as unnecessarily criminalising vulnerable children, this could lead to inappropriate restrictions being imposed which could place the child at increased risk of neglect or abuse.

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Earlier this month the UN Committee on Women (CEDAW) published its latest report on progress in achieving women’s equality in the UK.  The UN Committee welcomed the UK Government’s “first female offender strategy in June 2018 to divert the most vulnerable women in the criminal justice system away from custody through the provision of tailored support in England and Wales.” However, reflecting concerns expressed by Prison Reform Trust and others, the Committee recommended that the UK government allocate sufficient resources to effectively implement the Female Offender Strategy; continue to develop alternative sentencing and custodial strategies, including community interventions and services, for women convicted of minor offences; and take further measures to improve the provision of mental health care in all prisons, taking into account the particular needs of women.

Welcoming the United Nations CEDAW Committee’s conclusions, PRT Transforming Lives programme director Dr Jenny Earle said:

“The government has recognised in its strategy that most of the solutions to women’s offending lie in the community, but so far has failed to adequately fund the women’s services that are key to delivering these.  Now an influential international body has added its voice to the growing clamour for more realistic funding. The time has come for the government to deliver on its commitments, and invest in those services it says it supports.”

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