Commenting on the findings of today’s (16 March) thematic report on race equality by HM Inspectorate of Probation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Different elements of the criminal justice system have regressed in their efforts to tackle race discrimination, despite the clearest possible roadmap for change from the Lammy report, and an apparent acceptance by the government of the need to either ‘explain or reform’.  This report highlights the urgent need for a renewed focus on tackling racial disparities across criminal justice agencies. The frequent assertion that we have the finest system of justice in the world simply doesn’t match up to the reality exposed by this and other inspection findings.”

This important report confirms the conclusion reached by Beverley Thompson OBE, writing in the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, that the prison and probation service has regressed in its efforts to tackle racial disparities. Click here to read.

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The Prison Reform Trust, as part of a coalition of criminal justice and race equality organisations, has written to the Prime Minster warning that the government’s plans for policing and sentencing will further entrench racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill entered parliament last week, and will be debated by ministers on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 March. It contains a number of proposals which the government has conceded will have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in equality assessments.

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The Prison Reform Trust has published a briefing on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill as the House of Commons prepares to debate its proposals for the first time on Monday 15 March.

This Bill continues the long legacy of inflationary sentencing proposals in England and Wales begun in the 1990s. Far from being the simplification of sentencing claimed, the Bill adds to the piecemeal and confusing history of sentencing legislation of which the government claims to be so critical.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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Commenting on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill introduced to Parliament today, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Yet again we face the depressing spectacle of a government using sentencing legislation to play politics. Sentences for serious crime have been getting much longer for two decades now, turning our prisons into places of despair. But there is not a shred of evidence to show that this runaway inflation in punishment reduces crime.

“Hard cases make bad law, and this confused bill repeats the mistakes of so much other politically inspired legislation with calamitous results. It will blight the lives of people living and working in prisons long after the temporary electoral considerations which inspired it have been forgotten.”

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International Women's Day

08/03/2021 11:54:00

Today is International Women’s Day. PRT has long called for a reduction in the unnecessary imprisonment of women in the UK and a step change in how the criminal justice system responds to the needs of women. Read more about what we are doing to hold the government to account for implementation of its Female Offender strategy here.

Our five year National Lottery funded ‘TransformingLives: reducing women’s imprisonment’ programme has recently come an end, but you can access all the related resources here.

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The Prison Reform Trust hosted a webinar on Friday 19 February to share the findings of our new report, No Life, No Freedom, No Future, highlighting the experiences of prisoners recalled under the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP).

For those that missed the event the webinar can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here, and the accompanying slides can be viewed by clicking here.

Many thanks to our speakers Peter Dawson, Dr Mia Harris, Dr Kimmett Edgar, Russell Webster and Marc Conway, as well as everyone who attended.

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People in prison have revealed the devastating impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their mental health and wellbeing, in a briefing launched today by the Prison Reform Trust which examines the issue of prisoners’ health during the pandemic.

Based on evidence received from prisoners and their families from June to the present day, the briefing highlights the consequences for prisoners of being locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day for the past 10 months under conditions which amount to “prolonged solitary confinement”.

It also highlights measures taken by prisons which had made the situation more bearable. These include kindness and empathy from staff, access to exercise and other activities, mental health support, good communications and effective precautions against the disease.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (11 February) thematic report on the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown in prisons by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The Chief Inspector’s report shines a light on the hidden suffering Covid-19 has caused in prisons. Saving lives has come at a huge price for prisoners and their families.

“For all the heroic efforts of prison managers and staff, we should remember that their task has been made harder by the overcrowded and dilapidated condition of our prisons before the pandemic began. It is inexplicable that ministers will shortly introduce legislation that will inflate our prison population still further, knowing what the people who live and work in prisons have had to endure over the last year.”

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Commenting on the announcement by the Ministry of Justice that the rule which currently requires all parole hearings to be held in private will be relaxed, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We are disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with its plan for some parole hearings to be held in public. There is a clear expectation that the Board will only agree to public hearings rarely, however, and there is now a further process of consultation required to devise the procedural rules which will be needed to safeguard a fair process. Part of this must include whether the Board has the necessary independence and powers to ensure its decision making is not subject to political interference.

“No other aspect of the ‘root and branch’ review of parole has yet been made subject to consultation, and we can only hope that the review will now turn its attention to the question of why so few people are released on their parole eligibility date. The key issues are not about the Parole Board but about the prison and probation systems on which prisoners rely in order to be safely released in the first place, and to make a successful return to the community when they are.”

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We wrote to the Lord Chancellor just before Christmas complaining about the wholly improper comment from an unnamed government source in a Daily Telegraph article about “Helen’s Law”. That law puts into statute an existing Parole Board policy and practice of taking into account any refusal to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body. The quote from the source implied an obvious threat to the Board’s future standing if it took decisions in such cases that appeared to go against public opinion—quite plainly not what the law requires and not what the Parole Board is for.

We have now received a response from the prisons minister. The response ignores the specific complaint, but does give a clear commitment to the board’s continuing independence. It sheds no further light on how the current “root and branch” review of parole is being led or conducted, however, and the history of internal MoJ reviews in this area does little to reassure.

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