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Our work and response to Covid-19

17/03/2020 13:00:00

Like all organisations and individuals the Prison Reform Trust has been closely monitoring the developments and government advice following the Covid-19 outbreak. The safety of those who live and work in our prisons and that of PRT staff is our priority. In light of the latest government advice we are taking measures to uphold our collective safety, whilst continuing to deliver vital services to those in prison.

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The reintroduction today of the Domestic Abuse Bill presents an opportunity to strengthen legal protection for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse. This would address a gap in legal protection for survivors, strengthen recognition of the links between victimisation and offending and deter inappropriate prosecutions.

Commenting, Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager at the Prison Reform Trust said:

"The majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic abuse and many have been driven to offend as a direct result of that abuse. This landmark Bill presents an opportunity to protect survivors of abuse from prosecution where they have been driven to offend. With support from legal and domestic abuse experts, including the Victims' Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Criminal Bar Association, we will be making the case for this essential legal protection to be added to the Bill."

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This week the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody held its Keeping Safe Conference conference in London. Speaking at the event, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, highlighted the importance of family members and loved ones being able to share urgent safeguarding concerns they might have for someone currently in prison.

Following the recent publication of our joint report, Keeping People Safe in Prison, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust and Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust) have issued a joint response to Robert Buckland's remarks.

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Penal Reform International (PRI), in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), has published a guide for prison and probation staff to help them understand how prison life can affect a person’s mental health, with a focus on women. The guide aims to break down the stigma and discrimination attached to poor mental health, especially for women in prison.

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A new briefing, Working It Out, published today by the Prison Reform Trust and Working Chance, reveals that fewer than one in 20 women (4%) were in employment six weeks after release from prison, compared with over one in 10 men (11%).

The briefing found that despite government recognition that employment for those who have been in trouble with the law is critical for reducing reoffending, too many women with a criminal conviction experience barriers to employment and do not receive adequate support. Enabling women to achieve financial independence is especially important for those whose offending is driven by abusive and coercive relationships.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (7 February) National Audit Office report on improving the prison estate, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

 

“This startlingly frank report says that the government is failing to provide safe, secure and decent prisons. It describes in forensic detail how a succession of plans have disintegrated almost as soon as they have been announced, resulting in a failure to build new prisons, or close old ones, or maintain the current prison estate in a useable condition. To cap it all, there is no plan in place for the future.

“Scarcely a week passes without another high profile announcement of longer sentences or delayed release dates, despite the absence of any evidence that more imprisonment does anything to deter or reduce crime. This report exposes the recklessness of that approach, sending people to a prison system that shames us as a country, and all too often serves only to entrench the behaviour it is supposed to change.”


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Responding to the proposed introduction of emergency legislation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Public concern over apparently random attacks carried out by people who have served time in prison for terrorist offences is completely understandable—as is the government’s desire to respond. But we saw with the hurried implementation of an election promise to increase prison time for people convicted of certain sexual and violent offences, that parliamentary scrutiny, at least in the Commons, was negligible. A government with a big majority has a special duty to proceed with caution.

“Terrorism has always posed a very particular set of challenges for criminal justice systems. There are examples from history both in this country and overseas where poorly thought through or disproportionate reactions are likely to have made things worse rather than better in the long run. Unfair treatment or disproportionate punishment are both effective recruiting sergeants.

“So politicians should be very wary of creating expectations that no civilised system of justice can deliver. Risk cannot be completely eliminated and our powers of prediction are always imperfect. Prison has its place but it cannot become a means to protect indefinitely.”

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (30 January) Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody statistics, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We welcome the small decrease in the overall levels of assault and significant drop in serious assaults on staff. But the hidden crisis revealed in these figures is the record levels of self-harm, which continue to rise unabated. A failure to ensure decent and humane conditions, as well as respond effectively to the large proportion of people in prison with serious mental health problems, is being paid for in human misery and distress. Too many people are held in overcrowded conditions with too little to do. The government needs a plan to restore purpose and hope to our prisons. Sending more people to prison for longer will make matters worse.”

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Planned government changes to sentencing will add to pressures on our overcrowded and overstretched prisons, without reducing crime or improving public confidence, a new Prison Reform Trust report warns.

The latest edition of the Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile reveals that, contrary to the impression given in much recent political debate and media coverage, England and Wales have become much tougher in their approach to punishing serious crime over the past few decades, on a scale which exceeds comparable countries or historical precedent.

Writing in the report in a specially commissioned section on life sentences, Professor Ben Crewe and Dr Susie Hulley, from the University of Cambridge, and Dr Serena Wright, from Royal Holloway, University of London, reveal a dramatic increase in the number of people serving sentences that were until recently considered wholly exceptional in their severity.

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Measures which seek to increase the automatic release point from halfway to the two-thirds point for adults convicted of certain offences should be paused to allow proper public scrutiny according to a new analysis of the government's Impact Assessment published by the Prison Reform Trust today.

The briefing, published on the same day that The Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019 is due to be debated in the House of Lords, will profoundly change the sentencing framework for serious offences, but has been subject to almost no meaningful scrutiny.

Government forecasts reveal that an additional 2,000 prison places will be needed, with a one-off capital cost of £440m and a permanent recurring annual cost of £70m at today’s prices—with no evidence that the measures will reduce better protect the public; provide greater public confidence; or improve understanding of increasingly complicated sentencing legislation.

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