Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, has written to the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland following today's article in the Daily Telegraph on the Parole Board.

Click here to read the letter.

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The government did not seek responses to its white paper, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing, published in September 2020. But we understand that a bill implementing some of its proposals may well be tabled early in 2021.

In response we have prepared an analysis of those elements of the paper in which PRT has significant knowledge and interest. We hope this will assist others who share both our concerns and our hopes for different elements of the white paper’s approach, and inform parliamentary scrutiny of any bill that results from it.

While there is plenty in the white paper to welcome, much of it repeats the very worst errors of other governments over the last two decades in relation to sentencing. As the analysis points out, the incoherence and cruelty of proposals concerning those convicted of serious offences cannot be offset or excused by the more considered measures aimed at those convicted of less serious crime.

Given the challenges the country faces, it seems extraordinary that a bill to implement such an unevidenced and confused White Paper should command any priority in the new year. But if it does, parliament must subject it to the detailed scrutiny and challenge it plainly needs and which the absence of consultation in its preparation has prevented.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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The Prison Reform Trust provided expert evidence to an Equality and Human Rights Commission funded case, challenging the Secretary of State for Justice’s decision to make PAVA spray available in prisons during the coronavirus pandemic, before agreed safeguards were in place. 

The EHRC has now published a summary of the case, and as it points out, there are some important outcomes from it. The fact that the commitments the prison service have made are public and will produce more information that we and others can scrutinise are both important, as is the EHRC’s continuing interest in making sure the commitments are met.

We will publish a more detailed piece in the new year about the litigation, the questions that remain and the way we intend to maintain a close scrutiny of PAVA and its impact in future.

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Commenting on the publication of today’s (18 December) joint inspection report by Ofsted, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, and the Care Quality Commission, on conditions at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The new Chief Inspector of Prisons is right to be astonished that management at Rainsbrook STC did not put right the shortcomings laid bare by a highly critical inspection earlier in the year. The challenges posed by the pandemic cannot excuse the prolonged solitary confinement of children, nor the fact that this appeared to need a further inspection to be brought to light.”

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The Prison Reform Trust and Howard League for Penal Reform have received a brief response to our letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, requesting details of the ministry’s plans ahead of an expected increase in people being sent to prison as courts start to resume normal business.

For all the billions that have been promised for new prisons, it is clear that there is no plan for a prison estate free of overcrowding, despite the misery people have suffered during  the pandemic in prisons holding too many people too close together.

Click here to read his response.

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We are seeking an evaluator to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the Prison Reform Trust’s UK-wide Building Futures Programme that will explore the impact of long sentences on prisoners, their families and wider communities.

The evaluation will document the progress of Building Futures, the programme’s outcomes and learning.

For full details of the evaluation specification and the application process click 'read more'

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An analysis of local court data published today by the Prison Reform Trust has found a significant north-south divide in rates of women’s imprisonment in England and Wales.

The latest figures for 2019 continue to reveal a postcode lottery in women’s imprisonment rates, with women in the north of England, the Midlands and parts of Wales far more likely to end up behind bars than those in the south of England. For instance, women in South Wales are nearly seven times more likely to be imprisoned than women in Surrey.

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New research by the Prison Reform Trust, published today (3 December), reveals the mental anguish faced by the growing number of people serving sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) recalled to prison for breach of their licence conditions – a population which has nearly tripled in the past five years.

One recalled IPP prisoner interviewed for the report despaired of having “no life, no freedom, no future” under the discredited sentence, which was abolished in 2012.

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We were pleased to receive a response from the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland this week to our joint letter with the Howard League of 13 October.

His response is full and quite detailed. It shows that the prison service has made a thorough and genuine attempt to quickly learn the lessons from its initial response to the pandemic in the spring. It has done so not just through its own research but by taking on board what we in our CAPPTIVE reports(1)(2), and many other organisations, have been telling it. No-one is pretending that everything is as we would want it, and the adjusted approach the prison service wants to take now is dependent on staffing and on how the virus progresses in individual prisons and in the community. But we can point to some significant improvements at least in what the prison service is trying to deliver.

Click 'read more' for the full story.

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Commenting on the publication of today’s (28 October) report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on the experiences of rehabilitation and release planning amongst minority ethnic prisoners, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a very thorough, scrupulously evidenced, authoritative report. It shows yet again that you get a worse deal from our criminal justice system if you’re from an ethnic minority. The inspectorate’s main finding is that people from BME groups experience discrimination, but most prison staff do not see it. As the report rightly highlights, practical solutions begin with first, acknowledging the problem; and secondly, involving the people most affected in putting it right, learning from their experience rather than dismissing it.

“The contrast between this devastatingly honest report and the government’s approach to reform couldn’t be more stark. Over and over again, the government’s equality assessments show that its proposals for criminal justice reform are likely to have discriminatory impacts—notably in the recent White Paper on sentencing. But these are always accepted as a price worth paying for some other objective. It’s hardly surprising that trust in the system amongst minority communities is so low.”

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