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Category: Prison rules

Searching of the person

There are various circumstances in which a person might be searched whilst in prison and different types of search that may be justified by different circumstances. Common times to be searched are on initial reception to prison, after transfer from another prison, returning to prison after ROTL or escort, following visits and when conducting a cell-search. The type of search you might get depends on things like whether you are in the high security estate, or whether you are in prison for men, women or young people. PSI 07/2016 Searching of the Person contains details of this, and we thought it would be useful to summarise some of the key points below.

There are two main types of search – rub down searches and full searches.

Rub down searches can be carried out by a single officer and must be done using open hands with fingers spread out. There are two levels of rub down search – level A and level B. Level A rub down searches include extra checks such as asking you to remove shoes, checking in your hair and looking inside your ears nose and mouth, whereas level B rub down searches do not.

Rub down searches are not intrusive searches and should not normally require you to raise or remove outer clothing. However, if the prison staff think that something may be hidden you may be asked to raise or remove outer clothing. This must always be done in private and out of sight of persons of the opposite sex.

Full searches are more in depth searches which require you to remove your clothing. They must be carried out by two officers of the same sex as the person being searched and should be out of sight of anyone else including other staff and prisoners. You should never be completely naked during a full search – staff should let you replace clothing on the top half of your body before removing items on the lower half.

Full searches of women differ from that of male prisoners and consist of Level 1 and Level 2 searches. Level 1 searches involve the removal of clothing except from underwear. Level 2 searches involve removal of all clothing including underwear. Level 2 searches should only take place if there is intelligence or suspicion that an item has been hidden.

Hand-held metal detectors may be used during a full search for men and must be used as part of a full search for women.

Prison officers are not allowed to conduct intimate searches. Searching staff may look into your mouth during a rub down or full search. If there are grounds to suspect that a male prisoner has an item hidden in an intimate area then a closer visual inspection can be undertaken as part of a full search. Male prisoners may be asked to squat during a full search, and records must be kept of when this request is made. Women must not be asked to squat under any circumstances and should not be subject to visual inspections of intimate areas.

There are a number of annexes within the PSI which cover considerations for specific groups of people.

Annex D gives guidance on searching arrangements for religious or cultural reasons. Male prisoners who have a religious or cultural reason for not being searched by a female member of staff can request that this is carried out by male staff only. It also sets out the procedure for searching of religious or cultural headwear and provisions for Muslim prisoners if they are to be searched by dogs.

Annex E says that search procedures will need to be varied according to injuries or disabilities a person has and with advice from healthcare if needed.

Annex H includes searching arrangements for transgender people in prison and states that a voluntary agreement should be put in place as to how this should be done. If you have applied for or have obtained legal recognition of the gender with which you identify you must be searched in accordance with this unless alternative arrangements are agreed. It is important to note that searches must not be conducted to determine gender.

If you would like a copy of the full Prison Service Instruction on this subject, please contact us on the details below.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open 3.30pm-5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Please note, the above article focusses on prisons in England and Wales and may not apply elsewhere.

Healthcare complaints process

It’s the time of year when winter bugs mean we are all more likely to have need of healthcare services. Unfortunately, access to healthcare services in prison is still one of the major concerns that people raise through our advice service – a point that we made to the Health and Social Care committee last year during their inquiry into Prison health.

Some difficulties experienced in prison in relation to healthcare are not necessarily the responsibility of the healthcare service itself. Over the past few years restricted regimes in some prisons, caused in part by low staffing, have resulted in limited access to appointments, difficulties getting daily medication, and cancellation of important external appointments. If you are considering making a complaint about the healthcare service you have received in prison, it is worth trying to work out whether the problem is about the way the prison provided access to the service or whether it is about the healthcare service itself.

If you do need to make a complaint about the healthcare service itself, you should be aware that this is a separate process from the internal complaints process for the prison. You should speak to the healthcare team in the prison to get information about their own complaints process in the first instance.

If you are not happy with the response from the initial complaint to the healthcare provider you can then write to NHS England. Their contacts details are:
NHS England
PO Box 16738
B97 9PT

Telephone: 0300 3112 233

You will need to give your name, your contact address, the name of the service you want to complain about, a clear description of what you want to complain about and when it happened, and send any relevant documents you have.
NHS England also advises that they will usually need consent to share the complaint with the service in order to investigate it and suggest that you include the following line in order to speed up the process:

“I give permission for my complaint to be shared with (insert name of GP / dental surgery etc.) in order for NHS England to carry out an investigation.”

If you are not happy with the response by NHS England you can then ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to look at your complaint. You can write to the ombudsman at:

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Millbank Tower

Or telephone: 0345 015 4033, 8.30am-5.30pm, Monday to Friday

If you need any help with making a complaint about health, you can also ask an organisation called NHS Complaints Advocacy for advice. You can contact their helpline on 0300 330 5454.

Please be aware that the above steps refer to complaints raised about healthcare services in prisons in England. In other areas we advise speaking to staff for information about the escalation process or contacting our advice and information service for contact details of relevant bodies.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open 3.30pm-5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Release on temporary licence (ROTL)

In 2014, a small number of serious and high profile offences committed by people on temporary release led to the introduction of additional restrictions on the use of ROTL, cemented soon after in PSI 13/2015 Release on Temporary Licence. Unfortunately, these restrictions created unnecessary barriers and delays for the vast majority who made good use of ROTL to maintain family ties, take part in work and improve their resettlement – all of which contribute to reducing reoffending. At the time of these tragic incidents the overall success rate of ROTL was 99.93%. In the four years that followed the new restrictions, use of this important rehabilitative provision dropped by a third.

Advocating for better use of ROTL and a reversal of these restrictions has been one of Prison Reform Trust’s main priorities in recent years. We made recommendations through our ‘Inside Out’ briefings—the first published in 2015, the second published with Clinks in 2016, and a third in 2018. Many of the issues we raised came directly from the contact we have with people in prison through our advice and information service, as well as from the voluntary sector’s experience of offering ROTL placements.

In 2018, we welcomed the announcement by Justice Secretary David Gauke to review ROTL provision as part of employment and education strategy. Alongside governors, employers and other stakeholders, the following consultation gave us an opportunity to reiterate our recommendations. We also consulted members of our Prisoner Policy Network (PPN) who fed their views on the proposals and draft document directly to members of the policy team at HMPPS.

The new policy, Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) Policy Framework, was published and came into force in May this year. It contains a number of very welcome changes which have the potential to really improve the use of ROTL.

Here we summarise some of the main changes;


  • There is no longer a restriction on ROTL during the first 3 months following a transfer to open conditions – often referred to as a ‘lay down’ period. This means you will be eligible for ROTL after transfer once all necessary sentence planning and risk assessments have been completed.
  • Eligibility for Resettlement Day Release (RDR) therefore starts from the point of transfer to open conditions, subject to sentence plan and risk assessment. For women, you will be eligible at the point of recategorisation as ‘suitable for open conditions’.
  • You are also eligible to apply for Resettlement Overnight Release (ROR) from the point of transfer to open conditions (or the point of recategorisation for open conditions for women). However you will be expected to have completed a period of successful RDRs before RORs can take place.
  • Eligibility for Resettlement Day Release from closed conditions remains the same – 24 months before your effective release date OR once you have served half your custodial period, whichever gives the later date. This applies to those eligible for Standard ROTL only, as those under Restricted ROTL still need to be in open conditions for RDR (or assessed as suitable for open conditions, for women).
  • Eligibility for Resettlement Overnight Release from closed conditions also remains the same – 6 months before your effective release date OR once you have served half your custodial period, whichever gives the later date. But you may now apply for one ROR per month rather than being limited to two during the last six months.


  • There is no longer a requirement to do unpaid work before you can apply for paid work. You are allowed to take paid work as soon as you are eligible for RDRs. However, unpaid voluntary work will still be available for those who will benefit from it. All placements, whether paid or unpaid, must still be approved by the governor.
  • Previous guidance which limited the use of work opportunities, such as those in hospitality, due to proximity to the drinking of alcohol or gambling have been removed. However, these factors are still likely to be taken into account when assessing suitability of work placements for any individual.
  • It is no longer a requirement that you have to spend at least 24 hours per week in prison.


  • Primary carers are now allowed to apply for Childcare Resettlement Licence (CRL) as well as sole carers.
  • Eligibility for CRL has also been extended to include if you have children under 18—rather than under 16 as it was previously. The policy goes further by saying that although CRL is primarily for benefit of children under 18, in some cases it may continue after the child has reached 18.
  • CRL is also available more frequently for those who are eligible—a maximum of one day release per week including one period of overnight release per 28 days can be taken. The overnight release can be up to four nights.


The threshold for those subject to Restricted ROTL has been slightly reduced. It still applies to all Indeterminate Sentenced Prisoners (ISPs) and anyone currently assessed as high or very high risk of serious harm on OASys– but the ‘MAPPA Nominal’ category has been replaced by more specific categories. The list of people who are now subject to Restricted ROTL is therefore:

  • Indeterminate sentence prisoners (ISPs);
  • Prisoners serving Extended Determinate Sentences, or other legacy extended sentences;
  • Prisoners serving sentences imposed under section 236A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (offenders of particular concern); and
  • Any other offender who is currently assessed as high or very high risk of serious harm on OASys.

If you think your ROTL status may be affected by these changes you should speak to your offender supervisor at the prison to find out more.


Under the new policy all prisoners, including those on Restricted ROTL, can be considered for unaccompanied ROTL without having to complete accompanied ROTL first. However, the prison may still decide accompanied ROTL is necessary in individual circumstances as a way of managing risk.


Under the new policy, those with a history of escape, abscond, or serious ROTL failure can now be considered for open conditions and ROTL, provided that the it occurred more than two years ago and has only occured once on your current sentence.


  • The policy is now clear that you can be granted Special Purpose Licence both to visit a dying relative and to later attend their funeral. Although this was not prevented by the previous policy, we had become aware of cases in which people had unreasonably been asked to choose one or the other.
  • The policy suggests that ROTL could be used to help people who are due to be released on a Friday to access the many services which they may need before they close at the weekend. This is a sensible and welcome use of ROTL—if you are eligible for RDRs and think you would benefit from this we advise putting in an application to ask about this.

The policy also aims to streamline the process by reducing the need for repeated consultation with agencies and unnecessary ROTL boards. The aim will be to agree a likely programme of ROTL at the beginning of the process, consulting with offender managers and other relevant agencies about suitability and things like key dates or locations to be avoided. Once the prison has all relevant information for the programme of ROTL being considered they only need to consult again if there are significant changes in circumstances. These improvements to the way ROTL is processed could really reduce delays and improve people’s access to ROTL.

Of course, it’s not just about policy and we are yet to see how effectively the new guidelines are put into practice. The removal of a number of unnecessary requirements leaves Governors with some discretion as to how to apply the policy locally—we hope that this will result in some sensible decisions which increase opportunities for effective ROTL. You should be provided with information about how the policy will be delivered at the prison you are in. We are already aware that at least one open prison has been proactive by providing a copy of the Policy Framework and a summary of changes to every prisoner. We hope this good practice is reflected elsewhere as well but if this is not the case and you would like a copy of the Policy Framework please contact our advice and information service using the information below. We have also updated our information sheet which contains general information about ROTL as well.

Though the changes in the new policy are a welcome and significant step in the right direction, there are still ways in which ROTL could be improved further, and we will continue to advocate for this. PRT would like to see further reversal of restrictions brought in in 2014 by abolishing Restricted ROTL, so that all decisions are made on the basis of an individual’s risk, rather than their sentence. We would also like to see much better use of ROTL from Category C prisons so that the many people held in closed conditions can benefit from the rehabilitative value of this provision.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open 3.30pm–5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am–12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Strengthening family ties

In 2017 Lord Farmer published a review about ‘The Importance of Strengthening Family Ties’ for men in prison. The review made several recommendations which would help to put families at the centre of safe and rehabilitative prison regimes. A further review has since been looking at family ties for women in prison as part of the Female Offender Strategy.

As part of their response to the Farmer review, HMPPS have now published a Policy Framework entitled Strengthening Prisoners Family Ties. It recognises that family support is important for both wellbeing and reintegration and builds on some of the recommendations made by the review.

The Policy Framework says that each prison must have a ‘Family and Significant Other Strategy’. The strategy should be freely available to prisoners and their families, and should be easy to read. The strategy should contain what the Farmer review described as a ‘local family offer’ which includes the following:

  • A visitor centre and visiting services;
  • Staffing to ensure family work is a priority;
  • Extended visits for eligible prisoners based on local policy—for example, homework clubs or family days;
  • Family learning;
  • A ‘gateway’ communication system—we explain what this means below.

As part of this approach, the Policy Framework says there should be a senior manager lead in each prison to make sure that family work is a priority, and that staff should understand the importance of family work in keeping people safe and reducing reoffending.

Visits play a major role in maintaining and strengthening family ties. The Policy Framework reminds Governors of the importance of a clear and effective visits booking system to avoid difficulties and delays. They are also required to consider potential barriers to visits—for example if visits are shortened because visitors have to wait a long time to be brought to the visits hall.

Provision at visits should include facilities for children to play and facilities for private meetings between visitors and partner agencies. There should be accurate and understandable information for visitors about available support services, local visiting arrangements and the Assisted Prison Visits Scheme (APVU). All visitors should be able to speak to a member of staff if they would like to share concerns about the person they are visiting. There should also be a Family Support Worker available to offer support. Further details of visits provision remain in PSI 16/2011 Providing Visits and Services to Visitors which has been amended in light of the new Policy Framework.

In addition to statutory visits, Governors and family services must work together to provide opportunities for you to ‘interact positively’ with your family—the Policy Framework suggests family days and homework clubs as ways of doing this but also encourages innovative approaches. Although your attendance at these types of events should be subject to risk assessment and the best interests of any children considered, the Policy Framework is clear that you should not lose a family day simply due to downgrading in your IEP level.

As mentioned above, the Farmer review also recommended each prison have a ‘gateway’ communication system for families—which means there should be a way for family members and significant others to report concerns about someone in prison. The Policy Framework reflects this by stating that ‘Governors must provide contact details that prisoners’ families /significant others can use to share information with the prison about risk of harm to and from prisoners’. There must also be ‘effective arrangements in place to receive and act promptly on information, and to provide feedback to the individual where appropriate’. This is particularly important—our advice service has regular difficulties reporting urgent concerns to prisons, and we have been increasingly asked to leave voicemail messages rather than being able to speak to someone directly. Though this may be reasonable for general concerns, it is not suitable for reporting urgent issues such as an immediate risk of self-harm. PRT has been working with other organisations including Pact, the Howard League and Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) to highlight this with HMPPS and we are aware that steps are being taken to try to improve this practice.

In the meantime, if family members have difficulty reporting urgent concerns we suggest they make the Governor aware of this. They could also contact the National Prisoners’ Families Helpline which is run by Pact and offers information, emotional support and signposting to prisoners, people with convictions, defendants and their families. Their helpline number is 0808 808 2003 and is open weekdays from 9am to 8pm.

Please be aware that HMPPS has published a number of new Policy Frameworks in the last few months—covering policies such as recall and re-release, progression regimes, Home Detention Curfew (HDC), education and library services. If you would like more information or to be sent copies, you can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 3.30–5.30. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

PRT comment: Incentives policy framework

Commenting on the publication of the Incentives Policy Framework by the Ministry of Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Our work shows that the people who live in prison have a genuine interest in a calm and well-ordered environment where constructive engagement is positively encouraged. This is reflected in much of the research evidence on effective prison regimes. Much heavier sentences means that many of those people are spending many more years of their lives inside. Given the chance, they will make practical suggestions about how to make prisons work better day to day. The fact that every prison will regularly have to bring prisoners and staff together to discuss their local policy on incentives makes sense. It should help to deliver the safe and constructive prison system the public should expect.”


Many changes in the new IEP policy framework are underpinned by evidence on procedural justice. The Ministry of Justice has recently published an analytical summary on prisoner and staff perceptions of procedural justice in English and Welsh prisons, which you can download by clicking here.

The Prison Reform Trust provided feedback to the stakeholder consultation on the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme last year. You can read a copy of our response by clicking here and our accompanying letter to the prisons minister, Rory Stewart, by clicking here.

The Prison Reform Trust’s Prisoner Policy Network examined the issue of incentives for its first report, published earlier this year. The report, ‘What incentives work in prison?’ is the result of an extensive consultation exercise with over 1,250 people with experience of prison.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

Access to Digital Evidence

In December 2018 HMPPS published a Policy Framework about Access to Digital Evidence – also referred to as ‘A2DE’ for short. It covers the provision of what was previously known as ‘Access to Justice’ equipment, such as laptops, which are available in some circumstances to help with legal proceedings.

The purpose of A2DE equipment is very specific, so it is worth making sure you understand what it is for before making a request. It is to provide prisoners with access to digital equipment required ‘to view electronic disclosure by the Crown as evidence for the prosecution in any legal case’. It is not for reading correspondence from legal advisers as this would be subject to Rule 39 – this will be provided in paper format as usual. It is not for legal research or preparing submissions to court – though there are some considerations for people may have difficulty with writing by hand, which we mention below.

If you think you need A2DE equipment you can make a request by completing the application form found at Annex G of the Policy Framework – you can ask staff for a copy of this or contact our service using the details at the bottom of this article. The application form asks you to give details about why you need the equipment, why the evidence cannot be viewed during a legal visit and if you have any medical conditions which should be taken into account.

When considering a request, the Policy Framework says that Governors must consider whether you will be genuinely disadvantaged without access to the appropriate equipment. The decision to give access to A2DE equipment must be balanced against security and safety concerns. If your legal work can be adequately conducted with paper and pen then it’s likely you will be expected to do so.

Annex A of the document gives more information about when A2DE equipment may be considered. The following are examples of things that an application may be approved for; to view evidence submitted by The Crown which is too large to be viewed in paper form or during a legal visit; if you have a disability which makes viewing the evidence in paper format difficult; if the defence is complex or requires investigation of data which could not easily be done without A2DE equipment; if the information is sensitive and in a format which could only be viewed using A2DE equipment; or if you are appealing against conviction, you have a live appeal with a valid appeals court number, and new additional disclosure is available.

The following are examples of reasons why an application may not be approved; if it is for typing letters to your legal team; if it is to view video evidence which could be viewed on a DVD player or during legal visits; if it is only to listen to audio evidence which could be listened to on a CD player; if you are not able to use the equipment; if you are an appellant appealing against sentence not conviction, where no additional disclosure is submitted; if it is to prepare an application for appeal.

Usually the equipment provided will not have write-access enabled, which means it cannot be used to type things like submissions for your case. The Policy Framework references the case of Ponting v Whitemoor, which states that there is no requirement laid down by the Court that written submissions had to be in typed format or to reach a certain level of English. It also references R v Kenyon, in which the Court of Appeal concluded that conditions imposed by the prison authorities on the use of a computer by a prisoner in connection with litigation did not breach his human rights.

There is an exception if refusing to provide equipment would raise a real risk of prejudicing legal proceeds – for example, if someone has a disability which makes writing by hand difficult. In these cases, an electronic typewriter might be provided instead of a laptop for this purpose.

If your application is approved you will be asked to sign a compact which includes the conditions of using the equipment. We recommend reading this carefully and asking staff if you are not clear about anything. If you would like a copy of the Policy Framework, please contact our service on the details below and we will be happy to send it to you.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 3.30-5.30. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Amendments to adjudication procedures

From the start of February 2019, an updated instruction comes into effect which covers adjudications – PSI 05/2018 Prisoner Discipline Procedures (Adjudications). This replaces PSI 47/2011 which previously dealt with the subject. It also has also been combined with policy on recovering money for damages to prisons and prison property, previously in PSI 31/2013 which is also cancelled as a result.

The summary explains that the new document is the first stage in a process of reviewing adjudications in prison which will eventually result in a Policy Framework on the subject – the new form of guidance documents which we have mentioned in recent articles. Prison Reform Trust expect to be consulted on the development of adjudications policy in the meantime so, as always, would welcome any views or experiences you are willing to share on the subject.

This stage of the review has not radically changed overall discipline procedures, so it should remain familiar to anyone who previously understood it. Some of the changes reflect bulletins to governors since the last update and so should have already been put into practice. Helpfully, there is a table of amendments included in Annex G of the PSI which mean that you can check where the changes have been made. The following are some of the most significant amendments:

  • The PSI includes detail about the use of CCTV or Body Worn Video Camera (BWVC) footage as evidence for adjudications. The prison should allow evidence of this type to be viewed by yourself and any legal adviser at the prison, with failure to allow this likely to lead to any guilty finding being quashed. If there is a reason for not allowing you to view the footage, perhaps for security or data protection reasons, then the footage cannot be used as evidence to support any adjudication.
  • In relation to Incentives and Earned Privileges, it says that ‘adjudicators should consider requesting a review of any IEP action where a prisoner is found not guilty at an adjudication in relation to the same incident’.
  • There are some added equality considerations, such as accounting for mobility difficulties or other disabilities in relation to hearing room layout, and considering literacy and language difficulties to make sure someone understands what is happening.

Annex A still contains details of adjudication procedures. Some notable changes include:

  • There is additional emphasis on the point that ‘threat of punishment must not form part of the prison strategy for dealing with self-harm or attempted self-harm’.
    There are added prompts for adjudicators to check fitness for hearing as a standard part of adjudication procedures.
  • When considering punishment, it clarifies adjudicators responsibility to consider risk factors in open ACCTs or ACCTs closed within the last 3 months.
  • It clarifies that discipline procedures should continue when someone transfers prison before a hearing, and that adjudication paperwork should be sent to the receiving prison for this to happen.
  • There are clear references to staff responsibilities to hand particular forms to prisoners, such as the DIS 7 which gives details of punishments given.
  • It includes further detail about the principles of natural justice in relation to length of time for adjournments, but no longer includes the 6 week guideline.

Annex B now contains guidance about different charges, including the wording which should be used to lay the charge and proof to be considered. The following guidance has been added:

  • Guidance that foreign national prisoners and detainees can have charges laid against them for not complying with Home Office Requirements – for example, refusing to attend a pre-arranged interview with the Home Office.
  • Advice to staff about charging people who have assisted in drone related activity or been non-compliant with smoke-free policy.
  • Advice to staff that prisoners who permit photographs to be taken of them in prison and/or allow a photograph to be uploaded onto social networking sites can be charged with failing to comply with rules, but only if a local document exists making it clear that this is a rule.
  • Charges have been updated to reflect an amendment to Prison and YOI Rules which means someone can be charged if a substance is found in their urine that demonstrates that a controlled drug or specified drug has been administered. A list of substances relating to ‘specified drugs’ can be found in the Prison and YOI Rules.

If you would like a copy of the new PSI please feel free to contact us and we would be happy to send it to you. If you are not familiar with adjudications process we can also provide you with general information to help you gain a better understanding about what should happen.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open 3.30pm-5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Women’s policy framework

In June 2018, the Ministry of Justice published their Female Offender Strategy which embraces the case for a specific approach to women, whose offending is more likely to be affected by domestic abuse, coercive relationships and unmet health and social care needs, and who are more likely than men to be primary carers of children. The strategy acknowledges that for these reasons outcomes for women in custody can be even worse than for men. The government has promised to reduce the use of short prison sentences (nearly half of all women given a prison sentence are sentenced to less than 6 months) and increase the use of community sentences that would come with support.

As part of the implementation of the Strategy, the policy document covering women in prison – Prison Service Order (PSO) 4800 Women Prisoners – has been reviewed and replaced by the Women’s Policy Framework. This Policy Framework includes requirements and guidance about how women should be treated and supported not only in prisons but also in the community by probation services and courts as well.

The Policy Framework includes outcomes that Governors of women’s prisons should be aiming to achieve. Women should be held in “trauma-informed” conditions where they feel safe and which meet their specific resettlement needs. Staff working with women should be given training to give them a better understanding of women’s needs and circumstances. Women in prison should be able to access education, learning and skills provision, including in relation to parenting. They should also be able to access physical and mental health services that meet their needs. Prisons should also be working to identify and provide appropriate support to women who are at risk of or who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, sex work, human trafficking and other forms of abuse.

There are a number of measures included to help women meet challenges in relation to family relationships and childcare. While in prison, women should be given help and support to maintain family ties, and wherever possible be held in a prison which best enables them to do this. Prisons should have a ‘Family and Significant Other Strategy’ in place which explains how they aim to help women maintain these relationships. This should be made available to prisoners, staff and all visitors. There is more information about this in a recently published Strengthening Prisoners Family Ties Policy Framework, which also applies to men’s prisons and which we will write about in more detail in the coming months.

Support should be available for women who are separated from their children, including those experiencing loss or bereavement. Pregnant women and women with children under 18 months should be made aware of the benefits of Mother and Baby Units (MBU’s) and offered help to make an application if they want to. There is further information about this in PSI 49/2014 Mother and Baby Units. There is also a DVD that women could request to view in prison about what mothers should know if they are subject to imprisonment. As in the previous PSO, pregnant women should not be transported in cellular vehicle other than in the exceptional case that a healthcare professional has assessed it as acceptable.

Although much of prison policy and procedures detailed in current PSOs and PSIs apply to both men and women, there are some clear distinctions in practice, which the Policy Framework references. For example, searching procedures for women differ from those in the male estate, particularly in relation to a full search. PSI 07/2016 Searching of the Person sets out the differences, which we have also summarised in our information sheet on the subject. Similarly, women are subject to different Categorisation system than men, with only open and closed prisons within the estate. This continues to be covered by PSI 39/2011 Categorisation and recategorisation of Women prisoners.

There are some matters that were covered in the previous PSO but are no longer in the Policy Framework. Some of these are reasonably represented elsewhere because they apply to policy covering both the women’s and men’s estate. Others are more concerning in their absence. For example, the previous policy stated that women do not need to wear prison issue clothing, recognising that ‘part of the rehabilitation for many women prisoners involves the ability to maintain and raise self-esteem’. This is not included in the Policy Framework, due to change to policy was introduced in 15 November 2018 which means that all convicted prisoners, including prisoners in the women’s estate, must wear prison-issue clothing unless Governors decide some or all of their that the convicted prisoners in their prison can wear their own clothes as part of the IEP scheme. We are not yet aware of any change in practice as a result, but PRT will continue to advocate for the importance of women being allowed to wear their own clothing, and for any policy shift to extend this to the male estate as well – rather than the other way around.

If you would like a copy of the Women’s Policy Framework or any other documents mentioned in this article, or if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us using the details below.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open 3.30pm-5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Please note, the above article focusses on prisons in England and Wales and may not apply elsewhere.

Homelessness reduction

Last month we wrote about some of the current and upcoming changes outlined in the recently published Manage the Custodial Sentence Policy Framework. Also included in this document is a reference to a new duty that prisons now have in relation to resettlement. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 introduced a duty on public authorities in England, including prisons, to refer anyone who may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to local housing authorities.

The policy framework acknowledges this duty with the following paragraph, 4.46:

‘Governors must ensure that there are processes in place to comply with the duty to refer under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 with effect from October 2018. This would usually be completed by 6 weeks before release. For short sentences the referral would need to be completed as soon as possible’.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities has been updated with more details about this duty in Chapter 4. It says that public authorities such as prisons are ‘required to notify a housing authority of service users they consider may be homeless or threatened with homelessness (i.e. it is likely they will become homeless within 56 days)’.

Before making a referral, prisons must have your consent to do so and to include your contact details so that the housing authority can contact you about it. They should also allow you to identify the housing authority in England which you would like the notification to go to. You should be aware that is often much more difficult to get housing in an area which you have no local connection to – it is worth getting more advice from resettlement services in the prison if you are not sure about this.

The exact procedures for referrals will be different in different areas, as agreed between the prison and local authorities. It is the housing authority’s responsibility to make sure that these procedures are in place and to manage the referrals. However, the Code of Guidance says that ‘arrangements with prisons should ensure that the referral is made well in advance of the release date and that, with the individual’s consent, appropriate information is supplied with the referral’.

Please be aware that, unfortunately, a referral being made is no guarantee of getting housing for your release and that the prison’s responsibility under the Homelessness Reduction Act only extends to making the referral. However, this does not stop resettlement services from looking into alternatives for you or making referrals to other housing options if there are any.

After receiving the referral, it is up to the local housing authority as to what action is taken. As a minimum, housing authorities should always respond to any referral received. However, if the housing authority’s subsequent contact with you gives them reason to believe that you might be homeless or threatened with homelessness then it should trigger a homelessness application under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. This means that they will consider your circumstances, eligibility and whether you might be in priority need, to decide what duties they owe you. They may also look at your local connection and whether you might be considered ‘intentionally homeless’. You should get advice from the resettlement services at the prison as to what this might mean for you. You can also get advice from Shelter on 0808 800 4444 – we understand that this number is usually already cleared so you shouldn’t need to add it to your PIN.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open 3.30pm-5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Offender Management in Custody (OMiC)

In November 2016 the Justice Secretary, then Liz Truss, announced 2500 additional prison officers as part of the Prison Safety and Reform white paper. This included ‘new dedicated officers, each responsible for supervising and supporting around six offenders’. Two justice secretaries later, and this approach has become part of what is now known as ‘Offender Management in Custody’ – or ‘OMiC’ for short.

In their annual report this year, HMPPS described OMiC as a key part of the response to self-inflicted deaths, self-harm and violence in prison. It is intended to improve safety by engaging with people, building better relationships between staff and prisoners and helping people settle in to life in prison. We understand that the keyworker model has currently been rolled out in about 15 prisons, with the aim for it to be rolled out across the male closed estate by next summer.

HMPPS has published a supporting document ‘Manage the Custodial Sentence Policy Framework’. It gives more details about how the keyworker system should work. Its states:

  • All prisoners in the male closed estate must be allocated a key worker whose responsibility is to engage, motivate and support them through the custodial period.

  • Key work is delivered within the male closed estate by staff who have completed the required training.

  • Governors in the male closed estate must ensure that time is made available for an average of 45 minutes per prisoner per week for delivery of the key worker role which includes individual time with each prisoner.

  • Within this allocated time, key workers can vary individual sessions in order to provide a responsive service, reflecting individual need and stage in the sentence. A key worker session can consist of a structured interview or a range of activities such as attending an ACCT review, meeting family during a visit or engaging in conversation during an activity to build relationships.

The document also sets out arrangements for further changes that will take place later next year as part of the OMiC approach. These changes will involve a move to having prison-based offender managers to manage the custodial part of sentences rather than the current system of being allocated offender managers in the community. We understand the plan is to implement this phase towards the end of 2019 – we will write about this in more detail closer to the time.

This document is particularly significant as it is the first in a new type of guideline being produced by the prison service, called ‘Policy Frameworks’. This is part of a move away from Prison Service Instructions in an effort to simplify the current instruction system and give greater discretion to governors. This has been a Government intention since 2015 and was also reflected in the subsequent 2016 white paper with a commitment to ‘look at each policy, and either replace it with the minimum mandatory requirements to ensure a safe, decent and lawful system, with consistency across the estate where this is deemed critical or get rid of it altogether.’ Giving governors greater discretion about how to run their prison could result in some innovative and worthwhile practice. However, without careful consideration of which policy areas should and shouldn’t be devolved there are risks of growing inconsistency and unfairness. The Prison Reform Trust will be taking a keen interest in the development of policy frameworks and where necessary advocate for important mandatory actions not to be lost in the process.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open 3.30pm-5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.

Please note, the above article focusses on prisons in England and Wales and may not apply elsewhere.