Our work on PAVA

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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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 been engaged in long-standing dialogue with the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service regarding the decision to roll out PAVA incapacitant spray to prisons across the adult male closed estate.

Copies of all of the correspondence can be read by clicking 'read more'

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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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As part of our continuing work to scrutinise the roll out of PAVA incapacitant spray to prisons across the adult male closed estate, the Prison Reform Trust submitted a Freedom of Information request seeking further information about the adequacy of safeguarding measures.

The response includes a copy of the readiness assessment, training plan and a copy of the Prison Group Director sign off for HMP Hindley—one of the first prisons to be approved for the roll out of PAVA following the initial pilot.

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Everyone knows that violence in prison has got much, much worse over the last 5 years or so. The statistics are alarming – every quarterly publication describes a new record level of assaults against both prisoners and staff. Violence is both more frequent and more severe. It’s not surprising that people in prison, whether they live there or work there, say “something must be done”.

Writing for the prison newspaper Inside Time, Prison Reform Trust Director, Peter Dawson examines the case for a rethink on the introduction of PAVA spray.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The Prison Reform Trust has called for an urgent moratorium on the planned roll out of PAVA spray to prison officers in the adult male estate.

It warns that the roll out, which is due to begin in the New Year, is likely to do more harm than good and undermine the safety of prisoners and prison officers.

After the decision to roll out PAVA was announced in early October, the Prison Minister Rory Stewart said that PAVA would only be used in “exceptional circumstances” to protect staff from the threat or perceived threat of serious violence.

However, a new analysis of the pilot evaluation by PRT’s Director Peter Dawson, who is a former prison governor, shows that nearly two thirds (64%) of incidents in which PAVA spray was deployed by prison staff may have contravened the guidance for its use.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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