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The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon. David Gauke MP, set out in a speech delivered last week (Thursday 21 June 2018) how the government is improving outcomes for people with mental health problems and other needs caught up in the criminal justice system.

Speaking at the 2018 reception of the Care not Custody Coalition he set out the significant progress made since the inception of the Coalition in 2011.

The Care not Custody Coalition also published a briefing at the event, bringing together the array of work by coalition members, and progress made to date.

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Commenting on the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s female offender strategy today (27 June 2018), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The strategy is welcome recognition of the futility of short prison sentences for women whose offending is often driven by abusive relationships or unmet mental health needs. The strategy recognises that many women are victims of more serious crimes than those they are accused of, and contains many positive promises of change. But it has not provided the resource to deliver that change, and no timetable to drive it.

“If the Government turns its good intentions into action, many thousands of women and families, including victims, will benefit. That work must start immediately.”

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The House of Commons will begin to formally scrutinise the Offensive Weapons Bill this Wednesday (27 June) as it holds its second reading debate.

In preparation, the Prison Reform Trust has produced a short briefing for MPs, highlighting concerns about the proposals to introduce new and modified existing offences, as well as the expansion of mandatory sentences.

There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. But experience suggests that solutions are most likely to lie in better regulation and control of supply and increased investment in preventative measures, including early intervention, education, trauma-informed and public health responses.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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Commenting on today's House of Commons Justice Committee report on Transforming Rehabilitation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"This very comprehensive report makes many practical recommendations for change. One of them would immediately transform the operating context, regardless of contractual measures or organisational change. The committee unanimously recommends a statutory presumption against custodial sentences of under 12 months. At a stroke this would drastically reduce the short term ‘through the gate’ caseload where the government's own evidence shows that expensive failure is more or less guaranteed. Experience in Scotland shows that a presumption of this kind actually delivers the change ministers have already said they want in principle. They should seize the moment and get on with it."

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A chronic shortage of housing support for women released from custody is driving them back to prison, according to a report published today by the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison.

Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system, found that while in-prison housing support should be an integral part of preparing for release, it is often last-minute, with some women unsure on the morning of their release if they will have accommodation that evening.

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Commenting on the urgent notification issued today (31 May 2018) by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) over safety concerns at HMP Exeter, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Exeter prison is a grossly overcrowded prison where most prisoners are either not convicted at all or are serving short sentences. So David Gauke’s response to this urgent notification from the Chief Inspector should start by saying how he will give effect to the new policy direction he set out last weekend. He rightly wants to replace short prison sentences with community penalties that his own research show to be more effective at cutting crime. Turning that wish into reality is the most important thing he can do to stop the rot in Exeter and many other prisons like it.”

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Commenting on the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s education and employment strategy today (24 May 2018), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is a welcome strategy full to the brim with good intentions. It could make a big difference to the families and communities to which prisoners return on release.

“But almost none of those good intentions set a date for when they will be delivered, or how many people will benefit. We have heard many of these promises before.

“So the government must take this opportunity to show it means business. It must deliver a National Insurance holiday for employers, not just consider it. It must get thousands more prisoners into workplace release on temporary licence, not just consult about it. And it needs to say how many more prisoners will end up with a job when all these good intentions have turned into reality.”

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Whilst there has been a welcome reduction in the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison over the last year, figures published last month show that all other safety indicators are once again set records for all the wrong reasons.

Record levels of self-harming; record levels of assaults on prisoners; and record levels of assaults on staff show that violence and fear is the daily reality for many people in prison.

Dr Kimmett Edgar, the Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Research, a specialist in violence and conflict resolution in prisons, has produced a guide for staff and officials to help them to develop much needed strategies for violence reduction in our prisons. This guide builds on a speech he delivered to the Prison Safety and Reform team at the Ministry of Justice last month.

Conflict resolution needs to be placed at the centre of prison strategies to reduce violence. Doing so would empower governors, officers and prisoners in their efforts to make prisons safer.

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PRT comment: HMP Nottingham

16/05/2018 00:01:00

Commenting on today’s inspection report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This report shames us as a nation. It speaks of a fundamental failure to administer justice in a civilised way.

“But it is not an isolated example. Between 2013 and 2017, 1,364 people died in prison in England and Wales. 447 of those took their own life, and 21 were killed by a fellow prisoner. Nottingham prison is symptomatic of a disastrous political decision to slash resources from a chronically overcrowded prison system. Local failures must be rigorously exposed, as the Chief Inspector and Ombudsman rightly have done, and must be put right. But it was a political decision that broke the prison system and it will take political leadership to fix it. That must start with using prison less—it is time for ministers to step up.”

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Following a meeting of the Prison Reform Trust’s Care not Custody programme, and subsequent correspondence with Sir Simon Wessely, chair of the Mental Health Act independent review, it was agreed that the Centre for Mental Health, Prison Reform Trust and Together for Mental Health would convene a small expert round table seminar to discuss criminal justice concerns as they relate to the Mental Health Act.
 
A seminar, chaired by Lord Bradley, was held on 10 January, and a consultation response was submitted on 17 January. Our response can be read by clicking here.
 
At a follow up meeting with Sir Simon, we were asked if we would repeat the exercise with a specific focus on learning disability and autism, and a second seminar was held on 18 April; our response can be read by clicking here.

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