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Last Wednesday afternoon we were alerted by our partners in Scotland, Families Outside, to a problem with applications from prisoners’ families to the Assisted Prisons Visits Unit. A new online application system was not working and there appeared to be no way of making an application on paper. We spoke to Clinks, whose members were raising the issue with them too and sent a joint letter to the Prisons Minister at 10am on Thursday. By the afternoon we were pleased to have a response from the minister, Sam Gyimah, saying the system was up and running and families could continue to make paper applications if they wished.

We hope this intervention has resolved matters but of course what matters now is that the online process is reliable and that it really is possible for people who don’t have access to the internet to make their application on paper without being disadvantaged.

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Queen's speech

21/06/2017 13:13:00

Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
 
“It is immensely disappointing that the government has dropped its commitment to a prison reform bill. There was cross party support for this long overdue legislation. The decision puts even more pressure on the new justice secretary to find ways to stop our chronic overuse of prison so that this hardest pressed of public services can start to repair the damage his predecessors have inflicted upon it.
 
“He should start by spending the money earmarked for new prisons on measures that would make them unnecessary. That means supporting people in their communities and helping the people who really do need to be in prison to get out on time and stay out for good.”

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Today sees the publication of two briefings which present learning from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) Prison Reform Fellowships. These two briefings, authored by Jessica Jacobson and Helen Fair of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Birkbeck, University of London, are the last in a series of five.

The first briefing examines the importance of positive peer relations for promoting desistance and providing moral and practical support to people in prison and on release, whilst the second briefing profiles interventions which encourage people to develop a positive sense of self and a sense of responsibility for their own lives and towards others.

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Angiolini five years on

15/06/2017 08:47:00

The Scottish Working Group on Women Offenders is holding an event at the Scottish Parliament today, Thursday 15 June, to review progress five years on from the publication of Dame Elish Angiolini’s report of the Commission on Women Offenders.   Professor Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside, is presenting and will talk about the Transforming Lives programme’s work to reduce women’s imprisonment in Scotland.

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There should be a step change in the availability of release on temporary licence (ROTL) out of prisons to give more businesses the opportunity to employ prisoners in the community as part of preparation for their release, according to a new report published today (2 June) by the Prison Reform Trust.
 
The report, which details the findings of a two-year action learning project Out for Good based in HMP Brixton in south London, says there is "huge potential" to get more prisoners into jobs and training. It found a substantial number of employers both open to employing ex-offenders and willing to work with prisons to achieve this.

Against expectations, the report found it was not the attitudes of employers but national prison policy and practice which was the main barrier preventing opportunities for work and training from being seized.

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Figures released today (Monday 8 May) by the Prison Reform Trust to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (8–14 May) reveal that our overcrowded and overstretched prisons are struggling to meet the needs of the high numbers of people in their care with a mental health need or learning disability. 

Rising levels of self-inflicted deaths and record numbers of self-harm incidents point to the urgent need for the next government, whatever its political complexion, to address the decline in safety and standards in our prisons and to increase support in the justice system for vulnerable defendants.

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HMP Eastwood Park WI

02/05/2017 13:00:00

Jenny Earle, Director of Prison Reform Trust's Reducing Women's Imprisonment programme, joined Countess Sara Bathurst, the former High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour to talk about the Women's Institute opening up a branch in HMP Eastwood Park, and how this can provide a support network for the women to help reintegrate back into their community on release. 

The WI branch currently has 35 members and is called 'Lady B's Butterflies' in honour of the Countess being one of the founders.  Listen to the interview again by clicking here.

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Commenting on the Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics published today, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"The message from these deeply alarming numbers could not be any clearer. An overcrowded prison system cannot cope with the number of people it is expected to hold. People are being maimed and dying in unprecedented numbers as a direct consequence. Two years of positive rhetoric from the government about prison reform has done nothing to stop a relentless decline in safety. There is no end in sight, and a new government must make a reduction in imprisonment a top priority."

The Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics (quarterly update to December 2016) are available here.

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It was confirmed today that following the decision to hold a general election on 8 June the Prisons and Courts Bill will not progress any further in this Parliament.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"The prisons and courts bill, while far from perfect, had achieved cross-party support and contained some valuable measures to make prisons fit for the 21st century. With levels of safety, decency and fairness continuing to slide, the fall of the bill as a result of the election must not derail the vital job of prison reform. The next government, whatever its political complexion, should reintroduce a prisons bill as a top priority."

Click here to read about the Prison Reform Trust's work on the bill up to this point.

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Commenting on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture's report on UK prisons, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"This is a devastating international indictment of how low our prison system has sunk. This independent, expert committee exists to prevent mistreatment in prisons across Europe. It should be a matter of national shame that they found that every prison they visited in this country was unsafe for both staff and prisoners. They specifically found that some children were being held in conditions that were inhuman and degrading

"The committee is equally clear that endemic overcrowding lies behind this appalling failure. Its report makes plain that the government's stated commitment to reform will come to nothing without determined and prompt action to reduce prison numbers.
 
"There have been times in our history when the way we ran our prisons was held up as a model for other countries to follow. Now we are falling short of the most basic international expectations. Whatever the outcome of the general election, a new government needs to restore some pride in the way we treat the people we choose to punish."

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