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Report finds just one in 10 safer custody departments in prisons answer phone calls from worried family members.

New research reveals that most prisons in England and Wales are failing in their duty to ensure that emergency phone lines are in place for families to share urgent concerns about self-harm and suicide risks of relatives in prison. This is in serious breach of government policy that families should be able to share concerns ‘without delay’.

At a time of unprecedented levels of self-harm in prisons, charities are calling on prisons to protect the lives of people in prison and address these critical failures. In 12 months to March 2019 there were 58,000 self-harm incidents in prisons – compared to 26,000 a decade earlier.

A joint report by the Prison Reform Trust, INQUEST and Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust), maps the provision of safer custody telephone lines across the prison estate - dedicated phone lines which enable family members and others to pass on urgent information when they have concerns.

It finds that provision is patchy, under-resourced and even non-existent in some prisons, leaving families struggling to share their concerns with prison staff.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Commenting on today's (31 October) report on prison governance published by the House of Commons Justice Committee, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: 

"This report is a scathing indictment of a political failure. The Government doesn't hesitate to promise more jail time for more people, but it has no plan for how to deliver a decent, safe or effective prison system to accommodate them.

"People's lives and public safety are at stake, and making 'policy by press notice' isn't good enough. The people who live and work in prison deserve to be told when overcrowding will end, and dilapidated prisons finally be shut."

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Jane Hutt AM, Deputy Minister for the Welsh Government, will set out plans today (10 October) on working in partnership to reduce the number of women in Wales in prison.

The Cardiff summit, jointly hosted by Prison Reform Trust, Clinks, Community Justice Cymru and the Welsh Government, will bring together ministers, government officials, organisations supporting women in the justice system and women with lived experience, to support the delivery of the Female Offending Blueprint, published by the Welsh Government earlier this year.

The event is being delivered as part of the Prison Reform Trust’s UK wide Transforming Lives programme to reduce women's imprisonment, and to encourage implementation and investment in better responses to reducing crime committed by women.

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Photo credit: Welsh Government

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We’re pleased to launch our new series of podcasts with Straightline and National Prison Radio.

Presented by Phil Maguire OBE, Chief Executive of the Prison Radio Association, and Head of Prisoner Engagement at Prison Reform Trust Paula Harriott, each episode of The Secret Life of Prisons takes on a theme related to the prison experience, and features a range of guests with personal experience and insight on each topic.

Through the series listeners will be hear personal testimony from people who have been there, as you are guided out from court and arrival to prison, all the way through to release.

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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.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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