Commenting on the findings of today’s (18 May) report by the House of Commons Education Committee, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Yet again, a select committee is calling out the government’s chronic failure to deliver on its promises where prisons are concerned. The report lists six years’ worth of eloquent policies about prison education, all of them still to be implemented.

“It’s time for action, not words. Informed by the realistic wisdom of over 50 responses from prisoners, the report makes many practical recommendations that the government should accept and put into effect. A defined purpose for education that recognises how much longer prison sentences have become, secure broadband in every prison, more opportunities to study in the community, simple continuity in recording achievement — these are just some examples of long overdue reforms.

“But the committee also shines a light on the corrosive impact of an overcrowded and understaffed prison estate. Prison education cannot flourish where prisoners spend all day locked up, and are moved from prison to prison just to fill the available spaces. Our national addiction to imprisonment cannot be reconciled with the ambitions ministers repeatedly describe. Without a fundamental change in how we use prison, more reports like this can be guaranteed.”

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Blog: Review of the parole system

31/03/2022 17:00:00

In this article for the Fairness Foundation, Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson sets out why the proposed reforms to parole, published this week, sacrifice fairness for political expediency.

Click 'read more' for the full article.

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Commenting on the publication of the Root and Branch Review of the Parole System by the Ministry of Justice today, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“No-one doubts the public concern that coverage of high-profile cases creates. But the job of Lord Chancellor should be to serve the interests of justice. The Parole Board is already a deeply cautious body, with an exceptional record of success. The report ignores the evidence, and as a result creates a web of confusion which will serve the interests neither of victims nor the people who have served the punishment their offending deserved.”

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The Prison Reform Trust has warned that the prison system is facing a “perfect storm” of rising prison numbers and a looming staffing crisis which threatens to blow the government’s reform plans off course.

Responding to the government’s consultation on its prisons strategy white paper, which closes today, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The government’s white paper on prisons is long on promises and short on the means to deliver them. For the long term, it simply avoids the fundamental challenges on overcrowding and resourcing which have sunk so many similarly ambitious policy statements in the past. But it also offers nothing for the short term, where policies to inflate prison numbers despite a staffing crisis threaten to make prisons unmanageable.

“A perfect storm is coming, and ministers must not think they can ride it out by cramming more prisoners into dilapidated prisons regularly condemned by the Chief Inspector of prisons. Too many prisoners and too few staff led to an explosion in deaths, self-harm and violence in the last decade—there can be no excuse for not understanding the consequences of doing the same again.”

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Commenting on the publication of the Prisons Strategy White Paper today, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Safer prisons that rehabilitate are in everyone’s interests. So investment in preventing drugs from getting into prisons and helping people get clean is all welcome. But it’s hardly a new ambition and the  track record of delivery on prison promises is poor. You can’t build prison reform on a foundation of overcrowded, dilapidated prisons where prisoners spend most of their day in their cells. That’s what life is like in the prisons where these problems are most acute. The government is in danger of addressing the symptoms of our broken prison system, not its causes.”

You can also hear Marc Conway, Prisoner Engagement Coordinator in our Prisoner Policy Network, ask prisoners and prison staff to imagine what a prison of the future might look like in the podcast Woolfsite.

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PPN Coordinator Femi Laryea-Adekim gave evidence this morning to the House of Commons Education Committee, as part of their inquiry into prison education. Femi was part of a panel of five people with lived experience of the prison system, sharing their expertise.

Click here to watch

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Ahead of next Monday's House of Lords Committee Stage debate, we’ve published two joint briefings on amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill. The amendments would reform the IPP sentence; and introduce judicial oversight for a new power allowing the government to prevent automatic release.

You can read the joint briefing in support of amendments relating to the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection by clicking here.

The second briefing in support of greater judicial oversight is available to read by clicking here.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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