Our work on PAVA

PRT comment: HMP Hull

02/11/2021 00:01:00

Commenting on the findings of today’s (2 November) report on conditions at HMP Hull by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“At the very start of the pandemic, the government took a secret decision to accelerate the rollout of ‘PAVA’ spray—a chemical incapacitant weapon—to all closed adult male prisons. When challenged in court, the prison service gave repeated undertakings about the central scrutiny that would be applied to make sure that PAVA was properly used. But yet again, the inspectorate have found that PAVA has been used without justification and that local safeguards are not working. PAVA use has been unnecessary, disproportionate and unsafe, and it’s taken the independent inspectorate to notice.

“The prison service is not in control of the weapon it’s put into officers’ hands. The rollout has to stop, and PAVA must be withdrawn from the prisons where the standards promised just aren’t being met.”

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We have today written to the prisons minister requesting more information about PAVA use in prisons. As we reported last year, we gave expert evidence in support of litigation brought by an individual prisoner and also supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This produced some important outcomes putting on record commitments from the ministry. Our letter to the minister asks for evidence that those commitments are now being met. But it also repeats the request for other data which will allow for proper external scrutiny, and makes proposals to strengthen the central and local governance of use of force more generally.

Click 'read more' for the full story.

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The Prison Reform Trust provided expert evidence to an Equality and Human Rights Commission funded case, challenging the Secretary of State for Justice’s decision to make PAVA spray available in prisons during the coronavirus pandemic, before agreed safeguards were in place. 

The EHRC has now published a summary of the case, and as it points out, there are some important outcomes from it. The fact that the commitments the prison service have made are public and will produce more information that we and others can scrutinise are both important, as is the EHRC’s continuing interest in making sure the commitments are met.

We will publish a more detailed piece in the new year about the litigation, the questions that remain and the way we intend to maintain a close scrutiny of PAVA and its impact in future.

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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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