This week the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody held its Keeping Safe Conference conference in London. Speaking at the event, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, highlighted the importance of family members and loved ones being able to share urgent safeguarding concerns they might have for someone currently in prison.

"Most importantly, families must be able to make contact to raise a concern over safety at any time. We are working hard with all prisons in the estate to ensure that there is a well-advertised and reliable means of speaking to a member of staff – such as a duty governor or orderly officer – where there is an imminent risk, as well as a separate voice mail service for less urgent matters where calls are monitored regularly and, yes, followed up."

The minister's statement is welcome, and echoes the findings of our joint report published with PACT (the Prison Advice and Care Trust) and Inquest which found that the provision of safer custody phone lines is patchy, under-resourced and even non-existent in some prisons, leaving families struggling to share their concerns with prison staff.

Responding to the remarks, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust and Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of Pact said:

"It is good to see the Lord Chancellor giving a personal commitment to reduce the number of people who die in prison, and describing some of the practical steps that can help that to come about. He rightly identifies the crucial role of families, on which he already has a comprehensive road map for reform thanks to Lord Farmer’s 2019 report. We particularly welcome Robert Buckland’s promise to make sure families can easily speak to someone with authority in a prison when they have an urgent concern about the safety of a loved one. But we have been here before, and words don’t always turn into actions. Our joint report 'Keeping people safe in prison' showed that this Farmer recommendation was a very long way from being implemented. There have been improvements since, but we know that not every prison yet delivers this very basic service. We will keep checking until they do.”