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The Prison Reform Trust, along with 15 other criminal justice organisations, has co-signed a letter to the leaders of the Brexit Party, Conservative Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Green Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and Scottish National Party.

The letter, calls on all party leaders to temper their language in regard to law and order so that sensitive issues of intense public concern are not exploited but are used to contribute to a reasoned and constructive public debate.

You can read a copy of the full letter by clicking 'read more'

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The families of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences are not getting enough help to deal with the painful burden of supporting their relative through their sentence, a joint report by the Prison Reform Trust and Southampton University reveals.

The IPP was abolished in 2012, but there are still 2,223 people in prison serving the sentence, nine in 10 of whom are passed their tariff expiry date. A further 1,206 people are in prison having been recalled while serving an IPP sentence in the community. The latest Ministry of Justice statistics show that the recall rate now exceeds the rate of release for people serving IPPs.

A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs, found that the pains and barriers faced by the families of people serving IPP sentences have not sufficiently been addressed by criminal justice agencies.

One family member, quoted in the report said “As a family it has destroyed us, and we need all the support we can get."

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While articles declare our prisons have gone ‘soft’, the truth is that sentencing is much, much tougher than it used to be. We have a higher proportion of life sentenced prisoners than any other country in Europe, including Russia and Turkey.

You may be thinking, ‘but why is that a bad thing. Surely harsher sentences deter would-be criminals?’ Life would be a whole lot simpler if that were true, but there isn’t a scrap of evidence so suggest it is. There’s simply no link between the severity of sentencing in different countries and their crime rate.

Writing for The Metro, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, examines the recent announcements on criminal justice made in the Queen's Speech.

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Commenting on today's (1 October) announcement by Robert Buckland that he will legislate to increase the custodial period served for some sentences, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is no way to make sentencing policy. There has been no review worthy of the name. In cases where the risk to the public is high, judges already have the power to do everything the Lord Chancellor says he wants. And sentencing for serious crime has already become dramatically more severe under every government this century. Yet despite all of that, the research evidence is that the public thinks sentencing is softer than it really is.

“But telling the truth about what’s actually happened on sentencing, and leaving judges free to consider the facts of the individual case, doesn’t win votes. This is the worst sort of politics—one day in the limelight paid for by decades of injustice to come.”

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Following the Prime Minister’s announcements about prisons in mid-August, we wrote three letters seeking clarification, to Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton, to the Secretary of State, Robert Buckland and to the CEO of HMPPS, Jo Farrar. To their collective credit, they have replied only three weeks later, and with some detail.

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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.

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Commenting on today’s (3 July 2019) publication of new definitive guidelines for arson and criminal damage offences by the Sentencing Council, Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“A significant proportion of people who commit arson have a mental health need, learning disability or autism. This guideline highlights the importance of courts obtaining a proper assessment of any underlying mental health condition or disorder before deciding the degree to which someone can be held responsible for what happened, and sets out a clear process for doing so, including full engagement with liaison and diversion services. This should lead to the fairer and more appropriate treatment of vulnerable defendants in our courts.”

Click here to read our submission to the Sentencing Council's consultation on the draft guidelines.

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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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Commenting on today’s announcement (17 May) by the Scottish Government that an affirmative order has been published to extend the existing presumption from three to 12 months, Alex Hewson, Senior Policy and Communications Officer at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Today’s announcement is a welcome step in reducing our reliance on ineffective short prison sentences. It’s grounded in the evidence, and is a critical part of wider efforts to deliver more effective responses to crime that benefit society, and those convicted. The Scottish Government’s approach recognises that success depends on sustained investment in effective and credible alternatives to custody and services that help people to turn their lives around. Whilst Ministers in England and Wales continue to consider the introduction of a similar scheme, Scotland moves one step further ahead.”

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Home Office proposals to create knife crime prevention orders, which are due to be debated by MPs for the first time on Tuesday 26 March, could criminalise thousands of children who are themselves victims of slavery, trafficking or criminal exploitation.

A joint briefing by the Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, sent to MPs ahead of the House of Commons debate, warns that there are insufficient safeguards built into the proposed legislation to ensure that the full circumstances of the child are taken into account by the police applying for the orders and the court before an order is imposed.

As well as unnecessarily criminalising vulnerable children, this could lead to inappropriate restrictions being imposed which could place the child at increased risk of neglect or abuse.

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There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. The government’s serious violence strategy recognises that many of the solutions lie in preventative rather than punitive measures, however proposals in the Offensive Weapons Bill, currently before Parliament risk undermining this valuable work.

The Prison Reform Trust co-signed a joint letter to the Home Secretary, outlining our serious concerns about the bill, and was covered by The Observer this weekend.

As the House of Lords prepares to debate the Offensive Weapons Bill on Tuesday 26 February, the Prison Reform Trust and Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) have prepared a joint briefing to assist Peers.

We believe that many of the proposed measures within the bill will be ineffective in tackling the causes of violent behaviour. They increase the use of ineffective short mandatory minimum custodial sentences; create legal uncertainty; are likely to impact BAME communities disproportionality and further damage trust in the justice system.

We are extremely concerned about the government’s proposals for a Knife Crime Prevention Order (KCPO), which can be imposed on the balance of probability and are highly likely to be net-widening, labelling, disproportionately impact BAME communities, and impose more criminal sanctions on vulnerable children and young people. Earlier this month PRT and SCYJ, along with a coalition of organisations working with children and young people in the criminal justice system, wrote a letter published in The Times opposing the KCPO.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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Reacting to David Gauke’s speech at Reform this morning (18 February), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The justice secretary is establishing a reputation as a thoughtful, balanced policy thinker, driven by evidence not preconception. This speech rightly rejects the pointless language of tough versus soft, and calls for an informed debate about how to punish serious crime in ways that are both effective and humane. It deserves a non-partisan response, so that we can ultimately achieve a penal system of which the country can feel proud rather than ashamed.”

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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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The UK has the highest number of life-sentenced prisoners of any country in Europe, the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile reveals.

There are 8,554 people in prison in the UK serving a life sentence—more than France, Germany and Italy combined.

In 2016, the UK and Turkey between them comprised 66% of the total life-sentenced prison population in Europe.

Life-sentenced prisoners in the UK make up more than 10% of the total sentenced prison population, which is higher than that for any other European country—and higher than that for the United States at 9.5%.

The growth in life and other forms of indeterminate sentences in the UK has been a significant driver of the increase in the prison population and raises serious questions regarding the fairness and proportionality of their use, the Briefing says.

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There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. As the government’s serious violence strategy recognises, many of the solutions lie in preventative rather than punitive measures.

As the House of Commons prepares to debate the Offensive Weapons Bill again on Monday 15 October, the Prison Reform Trust has prepared a short briefing to assist MPs, highlighting our support for a number of key amendments and new clauses.

We are concerned that provisions which unnecessarily criminalise children and young people risk driving the problem underground and could result in more vulnerable individuals being drawn into the criminal justice system, instead of putting them in contact with the treatment and support they need.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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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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The House of Commons will begin to formally scrutinise the Offensive Weapons Bill this Wednesday (27 June) as it holds its second reading debate.

In preparation, the Prison Reform Trust has produced a short briefing for MPs, highlighting concerns about the proposals to introduce new and modified existing offences, as well as the expansion of mandatory sentences.

There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. But experience suggests that solutions are most likely to lie in better regulation and control of supply and increased investment in preventative measures, including early intervention, education, trauma-informed and public health responses.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

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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 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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Commenting on the speech made this morning by the Justice Secretary Rt Hon David Gauke MP on prison reform, Peter Dawson , director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"The Justice Secretary set out an ambitious programme of reform for our prisons. But his predecessor promised to save £400m in the coming year. David Gauke's refusal to rule out further cuts in prisons raises serious doubts as to whether any of it is deliverable. Reducing reoffending, while a welcome ambition, will not make any significant dent in the size of the prison population. It is only by stemming the flow of people into prison and reversing sentence inflation that the government can begin to reduce chronic levels of overcrowding and get a grip on declining standards of safety and purposeful activity in our prisons. Anything else is wishful thinking."

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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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The Prison Reform Trust has today (25 September) published its response to HM Treasury’s consultation on this year’s Budget, which highlights concerns about the viability of the Ministry of Justice’s prison building programme in light of the projected increase in prison numbers.

An additional and unanticipated rise in prison numbers, together with alarming new population projections, raise serious doubts about the sustainability of the prison estate transforming programme. Without the option of closing older prisons, as now appears inevitable under the current population projections, no funds are released to run the new prisons planned—still less to finance the building and running of new prisons that will be required over and above the 10 committed by the previous government.

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Commenting on today's (5 September) announcement that the Scottish Government will introduce a presumption against the use of custodial sentences of less than 12 months, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
 
“There is much for England and Wales to learn from the progressive approach to punishment outlined today by Nicola Sturgeon. In particular, extending the presumption against short prison sentences from 3 to 12 months is a sensible way of reserving prison for those that really need it. In 2016 there were over 38,000 prison sentences of under 12 months in England and Wales, served in dangerous conditions and with the highest likelihood of the person reoffending on release. What a difference a similar presumption in England and Wales could make – safer communities and safer prisons.”

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The Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Policy and Communications, Mark Day, yesterday took part in a discussion on the BBC Two Victoria Derbyshire programme on the damaging legacy of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). The BBC’s story, which was also covered by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, considered the case of James Ward, who in 2006 was given an IPP sentence with a 10-month tariff, but who 11 years later remains in custody. Commenting on the Today programme, the Chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, urged the government to “get a grip” on the issue by bringing forward measures to expedite the release of the remaining post-tariff IPP prisoners.

You can watch the feature on the Victoria Derbyshire programme here [starts 16.10]

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Following the riot at HMP The Mount this week, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust has written in the Huffington Post. A full copy of his blog is reproduced here.

Another day, another prison riot. This time it’s at The Mount, a perfectly ordinary 30-year-old prison on the outskirts of London—not some Victorian hell hole waiting for the bulldozers to move in. And this the week after another set of statistics showing accelerating violence, self-harm and death in our prison system. The coruscating annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons feels like a distant memory only three weeks after it was headline news.

So does the riot at The Mount tell us anything we don’t already know, and might just be bored of being told?

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