Policy

Commenting on today's announcement by the Secretary of State for Justice extending the entitlement to vote to prisoners on release on temporary licence, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Today's announcement is a small but welcome step in the right direction to recognising voting as a normal part of rehabilitation and resettlement. However, it will only apply to a handful of prisoners, and is a long way from the norm in many other European countries where there are few or no restrictions on prisoners voting. People are sent to prison to lose their liberty, not their citizenship. If we want prisons to rehabilitate, we should expect people in prison to be able to exercise their civic responsibilities by voting in democratic elections."

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The Prison Reform Trust has today (25 September) published its response to HM Treasury’s consultation on this year’s Budget, which highlights concerns about the viability of the Ministry of Justice’s prison building programme in light of the projected increase in prison numbers.

An additional and unanticipated rise in prison numbers, together with alarming new population projections, raise serious doubts about the sustainability of the prison estate transforming programme. Without the option of closing older prisons, as now appears inevitable under the current population projections, no funds are released to run the new prisons planned—still less to finance the building and running of new prisons that will be required over and above the 10 committed by the previous government.

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Photo: Stacey Oliver

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Over the last 18 months Prison Reform Trust has been encouraged to discover a variety of peer led services which provide information to prisoners about rules and procedures in custody and which complement the work that our Advice and Information service delivers.  These services help people understand the experiences they are having in prison, who they can go to for support and how to challenge any treatment which they think is not fair or decent.  

By visiting and speaking to the staff and prisoners who are running these services we have collated examples of good practice and devised a step by step toolkit for setting up a peer led service information service in a prison. This has been supported by input from Prisoners' Advice Service and St Giles Trust who have a wealth of experience and expertise in this field.

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Commenting on today's (5 September) announcement that the Scottish Government will introduce a presumption against the use of custodial sentences of less than 12 months, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
 
“There is much for England and Wales to learn from the progressive approach to punishment outlined today by Nicola Sturgeon. In particular, extending the presumption against short prison sentences from 3 to 12 months is a sensible way of reserving prison for those that really need it. In 2016 there were over 38,000 prison sentences of under 12 months in England and Wales, served in dangerous conditions and with the highest likelihood of the person reoffending on release. What a difference a similar presumption in England and Wales could make – safer communities and safer prisons.”

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Following the riot at HMP The Mount this week, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust has written in the Huffington Post. A full copy of his blog is reproduced here.

Another day, another prison riot. This time it’s at The Mount, a perfectly ordinary 30-year-old prison on the outskirts of London—not some Victorian hell hole waiting for the bulldozers to move in. And this the week after another set of statistics showing accelerating violence, self-harm and death in our prison system. The coruscating annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons feels like a distant memory only three weeks after it was headline news.

So does the riot at The Mount tell us anything we don’t already know, and might just be bored of being told?

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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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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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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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The Prison Reform Trust has published a briefing ahead of the House of Commons Committee Stage to assist Parliamentarians in their detailed scrutiny of the bill, which also outlines key amendments which we support. You can read the briefing by clicking here.

The House of Commons second reading debate took place on Monday 20 March, and the Prison Reform Trust also produced a briefing, which you can download by clicking here. You can also catch up on the second reading debate by clicking here to watch, or clicking here to read.

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

"It is 65 years since it last happened, so the publication of a Prisons Bill is obviously an important moment. There is plenty to welcome—especially a statutory commitment to rehabilitation. But the Bill is also notable for what it does not contain—for example, nothing to control the demand for prison and no mention of decency or justice as the foundations of a rehabilitative system. 

"We will do everything we can to help parliament turn this bill into a genuinely reforming Act, making sure that: the purposes of prison are comprehensive; a mechanism exists to translate those purposes into standards approved by parliament and in line with our international obligations; and the institutions that hold the Secretary of State to account are properly independent of her and her department."

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