Race and prison

EQUAL—a National Independent Advisory Group that works collaboratively to address the poorer outcomes experienced by BAME and Muslim people in the criminal justice system—has written to prisons minister Lucy Frazer today to express its concerns about the roll out of PAVA incapacitant spray.

The letter highlights the inadequacy of current safeguards to prevent the disproportionate use of PAVA against against BAME people in prison, as well as the persistent, unexplained, problem of racially disproportionate use of force in prisons.

Click here to read a copy of the letter.

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The Prison Reform Trust is delighted to be one of two charities that Uber has chosen to support for their work in promoting equality and social justice. We are pleased to be receiving this recognition from Uber alongside the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. The award of £20,000 will support our work on the Prisoner Policy Network, with a specific focus on helping develop the skills of people within BAME communities in prisons to contribute to policy development and advocacy. Uber has written a blog about the award on its website which you can read by clicking here.

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

“We’re delighted to have this new relationship with Uber. For many people, prisoners are out of sight and out of mind. They may not feel much sympathy for them. But something is seriously wrong when our prisons are disproportionately filled by people of colour, people denied an education and people suffering mental ill health. We all have an interest in prisons becoming places where people start to build themselves a better future. This support will help us to help prisoners themselves make the case for reform, and to change prisons from within.”

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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.

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

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The Prison Reform Trust has co-signed a letter to CEO of HM Prison and Probation Service, Dr Jo Farrar today, calling for practical and visible action to tackle the discrimination that many people from minority communities are experiencing and have experienced for many years.

The letter, sent as part of PRT's membership of the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19, includes a briefing prepared by a small group of BAME led organisations at the request of the group. It makes a series of practical suggestions for how the recovery process in prisons and probation can meet its obligations to people from minority communities who are so disproportionately disadvantaged in our current criminal justice system.

The task of eradicating discrimination based on race and ethnicity belongs to all of us. It requires leadership from those who hold power and influence now, not just those from minority communities who have for so long struggled to fill those positions or command that influence. They, and the organisations that know them best, are looking for evidence that they have been heard.

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Following the publication of the Ministry of Justice report, Tackling racial disparity in the criminal justice system: 2020 in February this year, the HMPPS External Advice and Scrutiny Panel (EASP)—established following David Lammy's independent review in 2017—wrote to raise its concerns that it had been wrongly represented.

The report did not make clear that the EASP continued to have concerns that safeguards to address racially disproportionate outcomes in use of force were inadequate, and that they were very likely to persist in the use of PAVA incapacitant spray. 

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The Prison Reform Trust and the Barrow Cadbury Trust have partnered with The Griffins Society to support two fellowships in 2020–21 focused on the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in prison or more broadly across the criminal justice system. We encourage applications for the fellowships from BAME practitioners. The closing date for applications is Noon, 31 July.

Click 'read more' to find out more about the fellowships programme and how you can apply.

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In response to the recent government announcements on a review of sentencingbuilding 10,000 additional prison places; and further investment in prison security, the Prison Reform Trust has written three separate letters seeking urgent clarification in order to assist our and wider public understanding.

We have written to:

  1. Robert Buckland—regarding the announcement of 10,000 additional prison places

  2. Richard Heaton—seeking clarification on the announcement of a review of sentencing

  3. Jo Farrar—about the announcement of £100m investment for additional prison security

Because of the public interest created by the announcements and the lack of opportunity for debate, we are publishing these letters and will publish the responses once they have been received.

You can read our response to the original announcements by clicking here.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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There were more than 140,000 admissions into prison in England and Wales in 2017—the highest number in western Europe, according to a new report published today (24 June 2019) by the Prison Reform Trust.

The report Prison: the facts, reveals that, despite the number falling in recent years, England and Wales still have over 40,000 more admissions to prison than Germany, the second-highest—which has a significantly larger national population.

The rate of prison admissions, which accounts for the effects of differences in national populations, shows that England and Wales have a rate approximately three times that of Italy and Spain, and almost twice as high as Germany, with 238 prison admissions for every 100,000 people.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, along with a coalition of organisations working with children and young people in the criminal justice system, have written a letter published in today’s Times opposing the government’s proposed knife crime prevention orders. A copy of the letter and a list of signatures is below.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence has also criticised the proposals, in an article in the Times which also highlights today’s letter.

The bill is being debated in the House of Lords today. The Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice have published a briefing for Peers urging them to oppose the new orders and highlighting other key amendments.

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Commenting on the findings of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman report on discrimination complaints, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman adds to the growing weight of evidence that prisons are failing to tackle discrimination. It echoes the findings of our own research, showing that many people, legitimately seeking answers, face unacceptable delays and inadequate responses. The neglect of remedies for unfair treatment should concern us all. A well functioning complaints system is a fundamental part of a successful prison service. It allows grievances to be resolved at an early stage and provides vital opportunities for prisons to learn. The government is failing to meet its legal responsibilities to promote equality in criminal justice. The Ombudsman’s report helps to show what government must do to repair the processes of resolving complaints about discrimination.”


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Commenting on the government’s response to the Lammy Review, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
 
“This is a comprehensive response that aims to meet the spirit as well as the letter of David Lammy’s report. But key recommendations on the judiciary have been rejected, outcomes for women are neglected, and very few of the promises of action have deadlines for completion. No new resources are promised to support any of this work, and the degree of external scrutiny proposed is very modest.

“So, as the government acknowledges, everything now depends on the evidence of change on the ground. Equality requires perpetual vigilance. The Lammy Review’s recommendation of an ‘explain or reform’ discipline must become a permanent foundation, running throughout every stage of criminal justice. We are a long way from that, and trust will only develop if people from BAME communities, including those in prison, see good words turned into action.”

Photo credit: UK Parliament, licenced under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) 

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The latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley briefings prison factfile highlights in facts and figures the consequences of a punitive political arms race over criminal justice policy over the past three decades. Steep cuts to prison staff and budgets in recent years have exposed the fault lines of a failed approach. The result is an overcrowded and overstretched prison system where standards of safety and decency are way below international expectations.
 
This year’s Bromley briefings open with a brand new section which we have called “The long view”. The Prison Reform Trust has built its reputation over more than three decades on presenting accurate evidence about prisons and the people in them. In a world where ministers feel compelled to respond to issues with ever greater immediacy, “The long view” offers an antidote to the latest Twitter storm or early morning grilling in the media.

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