Policy

Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has urged the government to take the necessary "political decision" to enable greater access to ICT in prisons.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Committee today (8 June) Peter Dawson said:

"There was a time when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have televisions in their cells. There was a time time very recently when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have phones in their cells, and now two-thirds of prisons have phones in cells.

"The use of technology goes so far beyond education. We're worried about people spraying Spice onto letters, you can't spray Spice onto an email but prisoners can't access electronic communication. The case has been made long ago, but it needs political will to make it happen."

Click here to catch up on the whole evidence session, and click here to read our written evidence to the committee's inquiry on prison education.

Read more


The Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme is an effective tool for easing the transition from custody to the community as well as managing existing and future prison population pressures. However, its use is being hampered by overly restrictive eligibility criteria and inefficient systems, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust suggests.

Existing eligibility criteria include limiting its use to those serving sentences of four years or less and rigid exclusions based on previous breaches or recalls and offence history. These criteria are disproportionate and exclude large categories of prisoners who could potentially benefit from the scheme, the briefing says.

Click 'read more' for the full story

Read more


Commenting on the announcement by the Ministry of Justice that the rule which currently requires all parole hearings to be held in private will be relaxed, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We are disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with its plan for some parole hearings to be held in public. There is a clear expectation that the Board will only agree to public hearings rarely, however, and there is now a further process of consultation required to devise the procedural rules which will be needed to safeguard a fair process. Part of this must include whether the Board has the necessary independence and powers to ensure its decision making is not subject to political interference.

“No other aspect of the ‘root and branch’ review of parole has yet been made subject to consultation, and we can only hope that the review will now turn its attention to the question of why so few people are released on their parole eligibility date. The key issues are not about the Parole Board but about the prison and probation systems on which prisoners rely in order to be safely released in the first place, and to make a successful return to the community when they are.”

Read more


We wrote to the Lord Chancellor just before Christmas complaining about the wholly improper comment from an unnamed government source in a Daily Telegraph article about “Helen’s Law”. That law puts into statute an existing Parole Board policy and practice of taking into account any refusal to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body. The quote from the source implied an obvious threat to the Board’s future standing if it took decisions in such cases that appeared to go against public opinion—quite plainly not what the law requires and not what the Parole Board is for.

We have now received a response from the prisons minister. The response ignores the specific complaint, but does give a clear commitment to the board’s continuing independence. It sheds no further light on how the current “root and branch” review of parole is being led or conducted, however, and the history of internal MoJ reviews in this area does little to reassure.

Read more


The prison service has “regressed” in its efforts to tackle racial inequality, a leading expert on equality and diversity in the criminal justice system has warned.

Writing in the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, Beverley Thompson OBE, a former senior civil servant and Race Equality Advisor (2004 – 2009) at HM Prison Service, says that “many in the prison service have either lost commitment and direction from their leadership or their organisational expertise and energy is depleted—seeking comfort instead from the dangerous mantra that ‘race has been done’.”

Click 'read more' for the full story

Read more


Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, has written to the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland following today's article in the Daily Telegraph on the Parole Board.

Click here to read the letter.

Read more


The government did not seek responses to its white paper, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing, published in September 2020. But we understand that a bill implementing some of its proposals may well be tabled early in 2021.

In response we have prepared an analysis of those elements of the paper in which PRT has significant knowledge and interest. We hope this will assist others who share both our concerns and our hopes for different elements of the white paper’s approach, and inform parliamentary scrutiny of any bill that results from it.

While there is plenty in the white paper to welcome, much of it repeats the very worst errors of other governments over the last two decades in relation to sentencing. As the analysis points out, the incoherence and cruelty of proposals concerning those convicted of serious offences cannot be offset or excused by the more considered measures aimed at those convicted of less serious crime.

Given the challenges the country faces, it seems extraordinary that a bill to implement such an unevidenced and confused White Paper should command any priority in the new year. But if it does, parliament must subject it to the detailed scrutiny and challenge it plainly needs and which the absence of consultation in its preparation has prevented.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

Read more


PRT comment: Prison building

29/06/2020 11:30:00

Commenting on the re-announcement that four new prisons are to be built in the next six years, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"These prisons have already been announced, and fruitless work has been underway to 'identify locations' for new prisons since 2012. But rehashing this tired old announcement as part of a plan for economic recovery is not only poor politics. It’s poor policymaking when the government’s punitive sentencing policies mean that, if they are ever built, these places will be quickly filled and nothing in the rest of the prison estate will change.

"The Public Accounts Committee is taking evidence on a report from the National Audit Office that laid bare the total absence of a coherent plan for prisons. Nothing has changed. An effective prison strategy has to manage demand as well as supply. It must reduce the numbers needlessly in custody. Only then can the government close the crumbling establishments and end the overcrowded conditions which shame us as a country."

Read more


Trust highlights urgent concerns over impact of PAVA spray on BAME prisoners and potential spread of Covid-19

The Prison Reform Trust has issued an urgent call for the government to reverse its decision to roll out PAVA spray to all staff trained in its use in prisons on the adult male closed estate.

The government’s unexpected decision, which was made public in a letter to stakeholders on 18 May, goes against a previous commitment made in April to pause the roll out of the controversial weapon in prisons for three months as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the prisons minister Lucy Frazer published today (Saturday 13 June), the Trust highlights concerns regarding the disproportionate impact of the roll out on the 27% of prisoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and the potential risk of contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

Click 'read more' for the full story

You can also find out more about our work on PAVA over the last two years by clicking here.

Read more


As we all adapt to the increased restrictions on our daily lives in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have turned to technology to help keep in touch with our loved ones at a time of enforced separation.

For people with a loved one in prison, this is an especially challenging time, with all prisons now closed to visitors. Keeping in touch is more important than ever in these circumstances, and the government has issued guidance to help families and friends to maintain their relationships during the lockdown.

Following discussion with families who currently have a loved one in prison, Prison Reform Trust associate Sarah Beresford reflects on the role that allowing greater use of virtual visits could play in helping people in prison and their loved ones through the Covid-19 pandemic, and beyond.

Click 'read more' to read her blog

Read more

first arrow previous arrow  next arrow last arrow