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National penal reform charity, the Prison Reform Trust, has been awarded £2.6 million in National Lottery funding to develop new approaches to long-term imprisonment.

The new grant from The National Lottery Community Fund—the largest funder of community activity in the UK—will support the Building Futures Programme, which will be delivered by the Prison Reform Trust over five years.

The Building Futures Programme aims to create solutions and shape a prison environment that is safe, humane and encourages accountability and responsibility, ultimately creating the conditions for rehabilitation and reintegration into communities. The project will inform both policy and practice across the UK, particularly around reducing reoffending and promoting community cohesion.

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Report finds just one in 10 safer custody departments in prisons answer phone calls from worried family members.

New research reveals that most prisons in England and Wales are failing in their duty to ensure that emergency phone lines are in place for families to share urgent concerns about self-harm and suicide risks of relatives in prison. This is in serious breach of government policy that families should be able to share concerns ‘without delay’.

At a time of unprecedented levels of self-harm in prisons, charities are calling on prisons to protect the lives of people in prison and address these critical failures. In 12 months to March 2019 there were 58,000 self-harm incidents in prisons – compared to 26,000 a decade earlier.

A joint report by the Prison Reform Trust, INQUEST and Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust), maps the provision of safer custody telephone lines across the prison estate - dedicated phone lines which enable family members and others to pass on urgent information when they have concerns.

It finds that provision is patchy, under-resourced and even non-existent in some prisons, leaving families struggling to share their concerns with prison staff.

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Commenting on today's (31 October) report on prison governance published by the House of Commons Justice Committee, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: 

"This report is a scathing indictment of a political failure. The Government doesn't hesitate to promise more jail time for more people, but it has no plan for how to deliver a decent, safe or effective prison system to accommodate them.

"People's lives and public safety are at stake, and making 'policy by press notice' isn't good enough. The people who live and work in prison deserve to be told when overcrowding will end, and dilapidated prisons finally be shut."

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While articles declare our prisons have gone ‘soft’, the truth is that sentencing is much, much tougher than it used to be. We have a higher proportion of life sentenced prisoners than any other country in Europe, including Russia and Turkey.

You may be thinking, ‘but why is that a bad thing. Surely harsher sentences deter would-be criminals?’ Life would be a whole lot simpler if that were true, but there isn’t a scrap of evidence so suggest it is. There’s simply no link between the severity of sentencing in different countries and their crime rate.

Writing for The Metro, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, examines the recent announcements on criminal justice made in the Queen's Speech.

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Jane Hutt AM, Deputy Minister for the Welsh Government, will set out plans today (10 October) on working in partnership to reduce the number of women in Wales in prison.

The Cardiff summit, jointly hosted by Prison Reform Trust, Clinks, Community Justice Cymru and the Welsh Government, will bring together ministers, government officials, organisations supporting women in the justice system and women with lived experience, to support the delivery of the Female Offending Blueprint, published by the Welsh Government earlier this year.

The event is being delivered as part of the Prison Reform Trust’s UK wide Transforming Lives programme to reduce women's imprisonment, and to encourage implementation and investment in better responses to reducing crime committed by women.

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We’re pleased to launch our new series of podcasts with Straightline and National Prison Radio.

Presented by Phil Maguire OBE, Chief Executive of the Prison Radio Association, and Head of Prisoner Engagement at Prison Reform Trust Paula Harriott, each episode of The Secret Life of Prisons takes on a theme related to the prison experience, and features a range of guests with personal experience and insight on each topic.

Through the series listeners will be hear personal testimony from people who have been there, as you are guided out from court and arrival to prison, all the way through to release.

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Commenting on today's (1 October) announcement by Robert Buckland that he will legislate to increase the custodial period served for some sentences, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is no way to make sentencing policy. There has been no review worthy of the name. In cases where the risk to the public is high, judges already have the power to do everything the Lord Chancellor says he wants. And sentencing for serious crime has already become dramatically more severe under every government this century. Yet despite all of that, the research evidence is that the public thinks sentencing is softer than it really is.

“But telling the truth about what’s actually happened on sentencing, and leaving judges free to consider the facts of the individual case, doesn’t win votes. This is the worst sort of politics—one day in the limelight paid for by decades of injustice to come.”

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Commenting on the report published today (19 September) by HM Inspectorate of Probation, Service user involvement in the review and improvement of probation services, Paula Harriott, Head of Prisoner Engagement at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This important research shows the immense value of involving the people who know most about what works to reduce re-offending. That’s the people under supervision who have to navigate a system that sometimes seems designed to make it difficult to succeed. Whatever else the next re-organisation of probation does, it must build in a requirement to use the expertise that comes from lived experience. The report gives many examples of the benefits that will bring in terms of safer communities and lives put back on track. The Inspectorate deserves congratulations for highlighting the issue and for its promise to use lived experience much more fully in its own way of working.”

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Following the Prime Minister’s announcements about prisons in mid-August, we wrote three letters seeking clarification, to Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton, to the Secretary of State, Robert Buckland and to the CEO of HMPPS, Jo Farrar. To their collective credit, they have replied only three weeks later, and with some detail.

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Commenting on the publication of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report Right to Family Life: Children whose mothers are in prison, Jenny Earle, programme director of the PRT Transforming Lives programme to reduce women’s imprisonment said:

“Today’s report recognises that women overwhelmingly commit non-violent offences, spend short spells behind bars, and are more likely to be the primary carer of their children. Ensuring that children’s welfare is more consistently and effectively factored into sentencing decisions, requires changes to both law and practice. This means that women have the opportunity and the confidence to disclose if they have children, and a prohibition on custodial sentencing without a pre-sentence report. The government must act on the recommendations of this expert cross-party parliamentary committee, and break the cycle of intergenerational crime once and for all.”

You can download a copy of our evidence to the JCHR inquiry by clicking here.

You can download a copy of our report on maternal imprisonment, 'What about me?', by clicking here.

Click read more to see our Head of Prisoner Engagement, Paula Harriott speaking to Channel 5 News about maternal imprisonment.

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