Policy

We know that in-prison programmes can reduce dependency, and that the most ordered prisons have the busiest prisoners. Hope is a key ingredient of desistance. PRT director Peter Dawson explores how to address drug use in prisons in this article originally published in the Huffington Post.

Another week and another story about drugs in prison. It gets the usual five-minute examination—outrage that any drugs make it into a prison, bemusement that this is allowed to happen, an announcement of a new measure to stop it, and on to the next item.

Getting drugs out of our prisons is a critically important issue, and it deserves a better treatment.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The Prison Reform Trust has called for an urgent moratorium on the planned roll out of PAVA spray to prison officers in the adult male estate.

It warns that the roll out, which is due to begin in the New Year, is likely to do more harm than good and undermine the safety of prisoners and prison officers.

After the decision to roll out PAVA was announced in early October, the Prison Minister Rory Stewart said that PAVA would only be used in “exceptional circumstances” to protect staff from the threat or perceived threat of serious violence.

However, a new analysis of the pilot evaluation by PRT’s Director Peter Dawson, who is a former prison governor, shows that nearly two thirds (64%) of incidents in which PAVA spray was deployed by prison staff may have contravened the guidance for its use.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The Prison Reform Trust has today published its response to a stakeholder consultation on the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme.

You can read a copy of our response by clicking here and our accompanying letter to the prisons minister, Rory Stewart, by clicking here.

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PRT comment: Michael Spurr

20/09/2018 11:01:00

Commenting on today’s announcement that Michael Spurr will be stepping down as Chief Executive of HM Prisons and Probation Service in March 2019, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Michael Spurr will be an extraordinarily hard act to follow. He is an exceptionally principled and knowledgeable leader who has selflessly served an endless succession of short term ministers. Whoever takes over will face the same fundamental problems of overcrowded and under resourced prisons. Those are problems which only ministers can address and none of those whom Michael has served so faithfully have delivered. Anyone who thinks the problems in our prisons can be solved by a change of leader is deluding themselves."

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Commenting on today’s announcement (17 August) by the Ministry of Justice to invest £10m into 10 of the most challenging prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The Governors of the 10 prisons will be pleased to have a little more money, wherever it comes from. But we have been here before. In 2016 Michael Gove set up six reform prisons that would pave the way for others to follow. That idea was quietly shelved by his successors with neither explanation nor evaluation. We are now promised ‘tangible’ results from a new version, so we need to be told what those results are, and who will be held to account for delivering them.

“If Rory Stewart makes good on his wish to see fewer people go to prison on short sentences he will achieve something fundamental on prison reform. But he must concentrate on the job only he can do—matching the demands on the system to the resource Parliament is prepared to make available for it. It was a catastrophic failure to provide that balance which caused the collapse of prison safety after 2012—trying to tell Governors how to run prisons is not going to put it right.”

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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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