Commenting on the announcement by the Justice Secretary that the government is considering the early release of some prisoners in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The risks of infection for people who live and work in prisons are acute, as the Justice Secretary has said. So while it is obviously right that the way of life in prisons should change dramatically, just as it has in the wider community, Robert Buckland is right to be considering forms of early release. In a chronically overcrowded system, this will help keep people safe by reducing the pressure on both space and staff resources. For this to work, there will need to be support to organisations, many of them charities, that help prisoners on release. And it’s vital that while creating some headroom through releases, the flow of people into prisons is also drastically reduced. That means not sending anyone to prison for all but the most serious alleged or proved offending, and not recalling people to prison in all but the most dangerous of circumstances.

There is no time to waste—just as in the community at large, suppressing the spread of the virus in prisons means taking decisive action sooner rather than later.”

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Commenting on the government’s decision to suspend social visits and increase the provision of phones in prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The suspension of social visits was always likely to be necessary for the safety of prisoners and visitors alike. The provision of more phones for prisoners to stay in contact with families is a welcome step in the right direction. As the situation develops, prisons will need to be alert to other opportunities to preserve the relationships on which all of us are relying in these difficult times.”

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HM Prison Service has announced that prisons in England and Wales are temporarily closed to visitors following government instructions for people to stay at home.

Read the full guidance and how you can keep in touch with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic by clicking here.

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Our work and response to Covid-19

17/03/2020 13:00:00

Like all organisations and individuals the Prison Reform Trust has been closely monitoring the developments and government advice following the Covid-19 outbreak. The safety of those who live and work in our prisons and that of PRT staff is our priority. In light of the latest government advice we are taking measures to uphold our collective safety, whilst continuing to deliver vital services to those in prison.

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The reintroduction today of the Domestic Abuse Bill presents an opportunity to strengthen legal protection for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse. This would address a gap in legal protection for survivors, strengthen recognition of the links between victimisation and offending and deter inappropriate prosecutions.

Commenting, Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager at the Prison Reform Trust said:

"The majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic abuse and many have been driven to offend as a direct result of that abuse. This landmark Bill presents an opportunity to protect survivors of abuse from prosecution where they have been driven to offend. With support from legal and domestic abuse experts, including the Victims' Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Criminal Bar Association, we will be making the case for this essential legal protection to be added to the Bill."

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This week the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody held its Keeping Safe Conference conference in London. Speaking at the event, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, highlighted the importance of family members and loved ones being able to share urgent safeguarding concerns they might have for someone currently in prison.

Following the recent publication of our joint report, Keeping People Safe in Prison, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust and Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust) have issued a joint response to Robert Buckland's remarks.

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Penal Reform International (PRI), in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), has published a guide for prison and probation staff to help them understand how prison life can affect a person’s mental health, with a focus on women. The guide aims to break down the stigma and discrimination attached to poor mental health, especially for women in prison.

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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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