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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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At the end of a tumultuous year, PRT’s thoughts are inevitably with the people most closely affected by the events at Fishmongers’ Hall earlier this month—the families of all those who died, our colleagues and many other friends who were present.

In this post Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson's reflects on this Christmas and the year ahead.

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Below is a statement from the director of the Prison Reform Trust Peter Dawson on the tragic events of last Friday at London Bridge. We have decided not to engage in further public debate so soon after this terrible incident.

“On Friday last week two of our colleagues at the Prison Reform Trust were attending the meeting at Fishmongers' Hall where two young lives were tragically lost. We understand the public interest in these events but our first concern is for the well-being of our workmates, which will be best served if their privacy is respected and they are given the time and space to come to terms with the traumatic events of last Friday.

“It is right that there should be a profound questioning of how the terrible events at London Bridge came about. But that will take time and detailed, dispassionate enquiry. All our experience shows us that policy decisions taken in the immediate aftermath of shocking events are likely to lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences. In criminal justice, those damaging consequences have sometimes lasted for many years, and done incalculable harm.

“At this early stage, we do not know all of the facts about Friday’s events and what led up to them. Attempting to draw conclusions in haste risks not only grave policy error, but also shows a lack of respect for those who have suffered most.

“We will continue to work with any government, as we have always done, to identify ways in which the criminal justice system can better meet all of its objectives. Those objectives include both the protection of the public and a just and proportionate response to those who cause harm, sometimes of the most terrible kind. But it is too soon to draw conclusions from the tragedy which unfolded last Friday, and we urge restraint on all those who seek to do so.”

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The Prison Reform Trust, along with 15 other criminal justice organisations, has co-signed a letter to the leaders of the Brexit Party, Conservative Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Green Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and Scottish National Party.

The letter, calls on all party leaders to temper their language in regard to law and order so that sensitive issues of intense public concern are not exploited but are used to contribute to a reasoned and constructive public debate.

You can read a copy of the full letter by clicking 'read more'

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The families of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences are not getting enough help to deal with the painful burden of supporting their relative through their sentence, a joint report by the Prison Reform Trust and Southampton University reveals.

The IPP was abolished in 2012, but there are still 2,223 people in prison serving the sentence, nine in 10 of whom are passed their tariff expiry date. A further 1,206 people are in prison having been recalled while serving an IPP sentence in the community. The latest Ministry of Justice statistics show that the recall rate now exceeds the rate of release for people serving IPPs.

A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs, found that the pains and barriers faced by the families of people serving IPP sentences have not sufficiently been addressed by criminal justice agencies.

One family member, quoted in the report said “As a family it has destroyed us, and we need all the support we can get."

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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