Policy

The government should follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a presumption against short prison sentences as part of their efforts to restore safety and stability to our struggling jails according to a new briefing, Prison: the facts, published today by the Prison Reform Trust.

The briefing reveals the current scale of the challenge facing the government, with hundreds of people flowing in and out of the prison system on short sentences every week, placing pressure on an already overstretched and overcrowded prison system.

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Commenting on today’s speech by David Gauke at the Centre for Social Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“David Gauke has set out a balanced and pragmatic approach to prison reform. He rightly starts by insisting that prison really should be a last resort and the futile imprisonment of short sentenced prisoners should end.

“£7m for in-cell phones in 20 prisons is a concrete and significant investment, which should pave the way for a national roll out. New measures to identify trouble makers need careful scrutiny to avoid perpetuating discriminatory treatment based on untested evidence.

“Getting the detail right will depend on listening to the people who live and work in prison—especially as the minister develops his plans for incentives that will change behaviour.”

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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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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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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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Prison governors should be encouraged to empty prison wings during the day and get far more prisoners out on temporary release to engage in work, training and education in the community, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) says.

As part of its forthcoming employment strategy for prisoners, the government should introduce a radical approach to using release on temporary licence (ROTL) at scale across the prison estate. This would be a huge incentive to good behaviour in prison as well as an effective aid to resettlement, the briefing suggests.

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Commenting on the government’s proposals announced today (28 April) for reform of the Parole Board, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“In calling for greater transparency and an appeal mechanism the Justice Secretary is pushing at a door his own department closed in the first place. The real scandal is that thousands of prisoners are still in prison many years beyond what their sentence required. That is because the prison and probation services between them have not come up with a plan for their safe release.

“A serious risk with these proposals is that without additional resource to back them we will see a return to lengthy parole delays which up until his forced resignation Nick Hardwick had been successful in tackling. Furthermore, without measures to guarantee the Board’s independence by establishing it as an independent court, there is a danger that decision making will become disproportionately risk averse.

“The Secretary of State needs to stop hiding behind the Parole Board and tackle the inadequacy of the prison and probation system for which he is personally accountable.”

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Commenting on the resignation of the chair of the Parole Board Nick Hardwick, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Nick Hardwick has made an important contribution to the work of the Parole Board and has been a vocal advocate for reform. His departure is a matter of real regret. The independence of the Parole Board is critical to its vital role in overseeing the safe release of prisoners, and Nick Hardwick is right to highlight the threats to its independence in his letter of resignation. It is a cornerstone of an independent parole system that decisions about the liberty of individuals should not be a matter for government ministers. In order to strengthen the confidence of the public, victims and prisoners in its work, our submission to the Parole review urges the government to establish the Parole Board as an independent legal tribunal, and make improvements to the transparency and accountability of the parole system as a whole."

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The Prison Reform Trust has written to David Gauke to submit evidence to the review of parole, announced by the Ministry of Justice in January. 

Those who live and work in our prisons will be only too familiar with the history of ill-judged policy responses prompted by high profile individual cases. So PRT’s evidence, prepared by Dr Thomas Guiney, a colleague at the Prison Reform Trust, and a leading authority on the history of parole in this country, proposes a measured set of recommendations designed to protect the parole process from improper political influence, while improving its transparency and effectiveness.

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Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on incentivising and promoting good behaviour, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is a very important report, and especially timely given the justice secretary’s desire to use incentives to make prisons better. The core messages are simple and well known. Relationships hold the key, and those can only be built when prisoners are out of their cells and staff have the time to get to know them. Consistent and fair application of clear standards is essential. Release on temporary licence is seen by prisoners as the biggest long term incentive, but is grossly underused. 


“All of this holds true for adults as well as children, and ministers could not ask for a clearer explanation of why the overburdened adult estate is not delivering a safe and decent way of life in so many prisons. The investment all prisons need is in the time and skills to build relationships. Realistically, that has to mean an end to too many people going to prison for too long.” 

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