Mar22 22/03/2017 00:01:00 by alex

Commenting on today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Justice that 5,000 new prison places are to be built, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
“This massive investment in new prisons is not matched by a credible plan to reduce our reckless overuse of prison in the first place. The prison estate certainly needs an overhaul, but reducing demand would mean closing prisons, not opening them. The government has admitted that it has no idea when overcrowding will cease, and this announcement takes us no closer to an answer to that crucial question.
“To ensure effective parliamentary scrutiny of the government's plans for prison reform, we urgently need to see a comprehensive plan for the whole prison estate—showing how demand will be reduced and closing prisons we no longer need as a result. It should include when overcrowding will end, how far prisoners’ families will be expected to travel for visits, and when every prison will be equipped to the same modern standard to do the same job of rehabilitation.”

Photo: Stacey Oliver

Feb14 14/02/2017 12:24:00 by tony

Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, has responded to the Justice Secretary Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's speech on prison reform to the Centre for Social Justice with a letter published today in The Times newspaper.

Sir, Your leader hits a whole series of nails on their heads. Setting arbitrary limits on the prison population is not the issue. Eliminating overcrowding is. It represents the corrosion at the heart of our prisons, undermining decency, safety and rehabilitation. And no government in living memory has made a dent in it, probably because none has thought it worth having a strategy to do so.

Among all the many aspirations to emerge since the crisis in our prisons was finally acknowledged by Michael Gove and now Liz Truss, there is an echoing void where a timetabled plan to eliminate overcrowding should be. In the short term, the pressure can eased by not sending people to prison who need help not punishment, preventing the recall of people to prison on technical grounds, and by reversing the decline in early release on electronic tags. Longer term, we need to rethink how we punish more serious crime, restoring discretion to the courts and hope to the prisoners whose lives we seek to change.

Nov30 30/11/2015 00:01:00 by alex

An explosion in the use of indeterminate sentences and the increased use of long determinate sentences are key drivers behind the near doubling of prison numbers in the past two decades. The latest edition of the Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, published today (30 November) by the Prison Reform Trust, reveals the cost of our addiction to imprisonment in wasted time, money and lives.

For the full story click 'read more'.


background to private prisons

Faced with a rising prison population in the late 1980s the Conservative government saw prison privatisation as the most cost effective solution to the crisis, it was also part of the government’s determination to promote private enterprise and extend the free market into public services.

In 1986 the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee concluded that the principal advantages of contracting-out prison building and management to the private sector were that:
•   It relieves the taxpayer of the immediate burden of having to pay for their initial capital cost
•   It dramatically accelerates their building
•   It produces greatly enhanced architectural efficiency and excellence.
The select committee proposed that as an experiment the Home Office should enable private sector companies to tender for the construction and management of prisons (Home Affairs Select Committee, 1987). However, it did not recommend how extensive this should be or give a time frame and no evaluation process was set out.

Following a tendering process in which the public sector was barred from participating, Group 4 was awarded a contract to manage HMP Wolds, a newly constructed 320-bed prison for unsentenced male prisoners that opened in April 1992. The prison had a number of initial problems and there was genuine cause for concern about aspects of the regime in its early stages.

The Conservative government, however, pressed on without a full evaluation and in 1993 announced that all new prisons would be privately built and operated under the private finance initiative. It was not deterred when Home Office commissioned research which evaluated the Wolds concluded in 1996 that:
..similar, and some might argue, better achievements are to be found in some new public sector prisons, showing that the private sector has no exclusive claim on innovation or imaginative management able to deliver high quality regimes… (Bottomley et al, 1996).
During the Conservatives’ time in office, as well as the Wolds, a further three prisons (Doncaster, Blakenhurst and Buckley Hall) were opened that had been built with public funds but were privately managed. The Conservatives also commissioned the private sector to build and run two more prisons, Parc and Altcourse.

The Labour Party vehemently opposed the Conservatives’ policy on private prisons, but within a week of being elected in 1997, it made a dramatic U-turn. On 8 May 1997 Jack Straw announced:
If there are contracts in the pipeline and the only way of getting the [new prison] accommodation in place very quickly is by signing those contracts, then I will sign those contracts.
In a speech to the Prison Officers Association the following year Straw announced that all new prisons would be privately built and run (Nathan, 2003).

Under Labour seven more PFI prisons were opened. The coalition government has agreed to build a new 800 place prison in east London.