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As part of the Prison Reform Trust's continuing efforts to scrutinise the government's response to managing Covid-19 in our prisons, our director Peter Dawson has submitted his latest evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee today.

PRT continues to share evidence with the committee, drawn from our contact with people in prison and those working to support them during this exceptionally difficult time, in addition to our policy and advocacy work to improve public transparency in the government's advice and decision making.

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"I understand the disappointment at our decision not to take the government to court. Fundamentally, our case was that we believed the Lord Chancellor was ignoring advice that around 15,000 prisoners needed to be released in the interests of safety. What we have discovered through the action is that the situation is fluid and that the Government’s current position is informed by the public health advice that was published last Friday. Our lawyers have therefore advised that the most effective way forward at this time is to continue to apply pressure.

"We are not giving up. Managing the pandemic in prisons puts enormous strain on those who live and work in our prisons, and those who care for them. The need for there to be many fewer people in prison will not change and we will continue to make that case. The information we have gained this week because of the threat of legal action will be crucial in doing that. But we have to do it in the way we think is most likely to get the right result."

Peter Dawson

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (30 April) report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a deeply shaming report. It shows how far below the standards of a civilised country our prison system has fallen. While attention is naturally focussed on managing the immediate crisis, this searing account highlights the reasons why that task has been made exponentially more difficult, and why we should never return to ‘business as usual’ in our prisons. As the committee rightly observes, overcrowding lies at the root of the problem and the government cannot build its way out of all the harms it causes. The solution lies in a radical change in who we send to prison, and for how long.”

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On Tuesday 28 April 2020 the government’s lawyers responded to our letter before claim threatening judicial review proceedings. The challenge centred on the Secretary of State for Justice’s failure to release people from prison despite the government’s announcement of 4 April 2020 that this was required in response to Covid-19.

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The Prison Service has now published guidance about prison releases in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Full details are included in documents called ‘End of Custody Temporary Release’ and ‘Covid-19: Use of Compassionate ROTL’ which can be found by clicking here.

We have summarised some of the key points of these policies, which you can read by clicking here.

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