Sep16 2 days ago by Matt

Following the Prime Minister’s announcements about prisons in mid-August, we wrote three letters seeking clarification, to Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton, to the Secretary of State, Robert Buckland and to the CEO of HMPPS, Jo Farrar. To their collective credit, they have replied only three weeks later, and with some detail.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

Aug21 21/08/2019 13:00:00 by alex

In response to the recent government announcements on a review of sentencingbuilding 10,000 additional prison places; and further investment in prison security, the Prison Reform Trust has written three separate letters seeking urgent clarification in order to assist our and wider public understanding.

We have written to:

  1. Robert Buckland—regarding the announcement of 10,000 additional prison places

  2. Richard Heaton—seeking clarification on the announcement of a review of sentencing

  3. Jo Farrar—about the announcement of £100m investment for additional prison security

Because of the public interest created by the announcements and the lack of opportunity for debate, we are publishing these letters and will publish the responses once they have been received.

You can read our response to the original announcements by clicking here.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

Feb7 07/02/2018 15:44:00 by alex

Late last year, the Prison Reform Trust’s advice and information service received a number of enquiries from people held in private prisons, regarding the cost of electronically transferring money into their prison account from families outside. Public sector prisons have also recently introduced such a service, however, unlike in private prisons this service is provided at no cost to either the sender or recipient. In response, we approached Unilink, the provider of the Secure Payment Service, to discuss how the situation might be able to be improved for those held in private prisons.

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Dec18 18/12/2017 00:01:00 by alex

The latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley briefings prison factfile highlights in facts and figures the consequences of a punitive political arms race over criminal justice policy over the past three decades. Steep cuts to prison staff and budgets in recent years have exposed the fault lines of a failed approach. The result is an overcrowded and overstretched prison system where standards of safety and decency are way below international expectations.
This year’s Bromley briefings open with a brand new section which we have called “The long view”. The Prison Reform Trust has built its reputation over more than three decades on presenting accurate evidence about prisons and the people in them. In a world where ministers feel compelled to respond to issues with ever greater immediacy, “The long view” offers an antidote to the latest Twitter storm or early morning grilling in the media.

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Dec7 07/12/2017 00:01:00 by alex

Today, on the same day that MPs will debate the government’s prison reform and safety plans, the Prison Reform Trust has published a paper it has commissioned from a former Prison Service Finance Director, Julian Le Vay.
The paper analyses the Ministry of Justice’s ambitions for prison building in the light of its current spending review settlement with HM Treasury.
It concludes that the Ministry of Justice’s current plans are inadequately funded to the tune of £162m in 2018/19, rising to £463m in 2022/23.

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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.


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.