Blog: Improving support into safe accommodation for women leaving prison
PRT comment: Preparation for release
PRT comment: Prison education
Government urged to move quickly on radical changes to prisoners’ access to ICT
Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has urged the government to take the necessary “political decision” to enable greater access to ICT in prisons.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Committee today (8 June) Peter Dawson said:
“There was a time when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have televisions in their cells. There was a time time very recently when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have phones in their cells, and now two-thirds of prisons have phones in cells.
“The use of technology goes so far beyond education. We’re worried about people spraying Spice onto letters, you can’t spray Spice onto an email but prisoners can’t access electronic communication. The case has been made long ago, but it needs political will to make it happen.”
StandOut win the 2021 Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Reintegration
The winner of this year’s prestigious Robin Corbett Award(RCA) is leading prisoner reintegration charity, StandOut. StandOut have been recognised by the RCA judging panel who were impressed by the way they see potential in those they work with and support returning citizens into employment.
Lady Val Corbett, Founder of the Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Reintegration, says: “We’re so thrilled StandOut are this year’s RCA winners, they work tirelessly to transform the lives of people leaving prison with on-going support to motivate them to get life on track.” Adding: “Despite the lockdown and problems faced by many charities within the prison reform sector, judges were impressed with the inspirational work being done to up-skill people from prison for jobs after release or improve self-confidence through mentoring, coaching or training.”StandOut combines practical support with long-term strengths-focussed coaching on both sides of the prison gates so that people are empowered to transform their own lives.
Penny Parker, founder of StandOut says: “We are absolutely delighted to have won the Robin Corbett Award. It recognises StandOut’s unique model of working with people inside prison and after release, for as long as it takes to support people to transform their lives. Since the day we started StandOut four years ago our coaches have been struck by the determination and motivation of our trainees to get life back on track.”
Adding: “We are also encouraged that the importance of this work is recognised by the employers who work with us to offer opportunities for people leaving prison. This prestigious award comes at an important time as we emerge from the pandemic, and is an endorsement of StandOut’s approach which will allow us to capitalise on what we have achieved so far.”
As this year’s winner, StandOutwill receive £5000 and a glass plaque donated by Timpsons and a book “A Life Well Lived”, about her husband, written by Lady Corbett.
The Robin Corbett Award has two other categories voted on by the judging panel: The Highly Commended, won by Open The Gate/Fine Cell Work receive £3000. They train prisoners in high-quality needlework undertaken in their cells so when leaving prison they have work skills, money earned and saved, plus the self-belief to not re-offend.
Commended won by Offploy who receive £1000. They focus on employment as one of the most effective ways to reduce reoffending. Formed by an ex-prisoner, 80% of the team have experienced the criminal justice system first hand.
About the Robin Corbett Award
The Robin Corbett Award rewards the best in prisoner reintegration. We believe that returning citizens deserve the very best chance for a fresh start after they have served the time for their crime. The Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Re-Integration was established by members of Lord Corbett’s family in conjunction with the Prison Reform Trust. It is now administered by The Corbett Foundation, a not-for-profit social enterprise.
Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust is a member of the award’s judging panel.
Benefits of curfew scheme hampered by overly restrictive criteria and inefficient systems
The Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme is an effective tool for easing the transition from custody to the community as well as managing existing and future prison population pressures. However, its use is being hampered by overly restrictive eligibility criteria and inefficient systems, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust suggests.
Existing eligibility criteria include limiting its use to those serving sentences of four years or less and rigid exclusions based on previous breaches or recalls and offence history. These criteria are disproportionate and exclude large categories of prisoners who could potentially benefit from the scheme, the briefing says.
Even within existing criteria, uptake of HDC could be further improved through better use of technology, improved provision of accommodation and addressing disproportionate outcomes for different protected characteristics.
The HDC scheme was introduced over two decades ago in 1999. The scheme enables eligible prisoners to serve the final 135 days of their custodial term in the community subject to electronic monitoring. The aim of the scheme is to assist the transition from custody to the community and ease population pressures on the prison estate.
Less than two years ago, the government introduced measures to expand the eligibility criteria for HDC. In July 2019, the previous Conservative government bought forward secondary legislation to increase the maximum length of the period which prisoners could spend on HDC in the community from 135 days to 180 days. In the impact assessment of the proposals, the Ministry of Justice identified the following benefits to expanding the eligibility criteria:
“Earlier resettlement will limit the harmful effects of custody and have a positive impact for offenders and their families; for example, earlier re-employment will allow them to support themselves and their families earlier in their sentence. Reducing the prison population will contribute to improving the conditions for both offenders and staff and enable prisoners to feel safer, calmer and readier to engage in their rehabilitation”.
However, in May 2020, the current Conservative government withdrew the legislation. This is despite the positive benefits identified in the impact assessment of the proposals of improved resettlement outcomes and better treatment and conditions in prison.
The impact assessment of the 2019 proposals stated that “the original policy intention [of the HDC scheme was] that most offenders eligible for the scheme should be released.” However, the data shows that this is not currently happening, with just 35% of eligible prisoners granted HDC in 2019.
With chronic levels of overcrowding on the prison estate and a prison population expected to rise in the coming years, it is crucial that the prison service has effective measures in place to relieve both existing and future population pressures. The latest government prison population projections predict that numbers in custody will rise by around 20,000 from current levels to 98,700 by September 2026.
The low recall rates for HDC suggests that the scheme is relatively successful in meeting its primary aim of supporting a successful transition from custody to community with the use of tagging technology, as well as easing the pressure on overcrowded prisons. The briefing makes recommendations for changing the eligibility criteria for HDC to make its benefits available to a larger number of prisoners. It also recommends ways in which the purpose and efficiency of HDC could be further improved within the existing policy. A full list of recommendations is included in the notes below.
Commenting, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“HDC is a valuable tool for easing the transition from custody to the community and managing existing and future population pressures. But its potential is being hampered by unnecessarily restrictive eligibility criteria which limit its use to just a small fraction of the prison population. Even within existing criteria, just 35% of eligible prisoners end up benefiting from the scheme.
“With the prison population predicted to rise by 20,000 within five years, the government needs all the tools at its disposal to handle the strain of growing numbers. This briefing makes practical recommendations for improving the use and efficiency of HDC to make its benefits available to as wide a group as possible.”
Based on the findings of the briefing, government should:
- Extend the eligibility criteria to prisoners sentenced to four years and above
- Extend the period an individual may spend on HDC in the community to 180 days
- Revise exclusions based on previous breaches and recalls in line with ROTL policy
- Revise offence-based exclusions, particularly non-statutory presumptions
- Remove the presumption against HDC being granted to foreign national prisoners
- Support use of GPS technology to increase uptake of HDC, particularly to prisoners deemed unsuitable
- Ensure BASS services are audited to check that they are operating effectively. If necessary, the government should be prepared to invest in expanding bed spaces in the BASS services to provide sufficient capacity for people on HDC.
- Extend the emergency accommodation support package, as well as publishing statistics on its performance so its impact can be independently assessed.
- Under the principle of explain or reform, investigate disproportionate outcomes in release rates on HDC for different ethnic groups.
- Collect and publish data on acceptance and refusal rates for all groups with protected characteristics.
Click here to download a copy of the briefing Home Detention Curfew (HDC): expanding eligibility and improving efficiency.
PRT comment: HM Inspectorate of Probation thematic report on race equality
Commenting on the findings of today’s (16 March) thematic report on race equality by HM Inspectorate of Probation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
“Different elements of the criminal justice system have regressed in their efforts to tackle race discrimination, despite the clearest possible roadmap for change from the Lammy report, and an apparent acceptance by the government of the need to either ‘explain or reform’. This report highlights the urgent need for a renewed focus on tackling racial disparities across criminal justice agencies. The frequent assertion that we have the finest system of justice in the world simply doesn’t match up to the reality exposed by this and other inspection findings.”
This important report confirms the conclusion reached by Beverley Thompson OBE, writing in the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, that the prison and probation service has regressed in its efforts to tackle racial disparities. Click here to read.
PRT comment: Change to rules on Parole Board hearings
Commenting on the announcement by the Ministry of Justice that the rule which currently requires all parole hearings to be held in private will be relaxed, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
“We are disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with its plan for some parole hearings to be held in public. There is a clear expectation that the Board will only agree to public hearings rarely, however, and there is now a further process of consultation required to devise the procedural rules which will be needed to safeguard a fair process. Part of this must include whether the Board has the necessary independence and powers to ensure its decision making is not subject to political interference.
“No other aspect of the ‘root and branch’ review of parole has yet been made subject to consultation, and we can only hope that the review will now turn its attention to the question of why so few people are released on their parole eligibility date. The key issues are not about the Parole Board but about the prison and probation systems on which prisoners rely in order to be safely released in the first place, and to make a successful return to the community when they are.”
PRT comment: Funding to keep prison leavers off the streets and cut crime
today’s (29 January) funding announcement by the Ministry of Justice, Peter
Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
are all welcome, and put some meat on the bone of the government’s commitment
to reducing reoffending. A place to live and the means to earn your living are
both crucial to giving people a fair chance when they leave prison. To achieve
the impact the government wants, it will be essential that these modest
commitments turn into a permanent, national investment in community based
solutions to crime. The public are best protected when people get help long
before there is any possibility of a prison sentence.
money involved in these welcome announcements are still dwarfed by the £4bn the
government is planning to spend on new prisons because of its continuing love
affair with imprisonment. And they sit oddly with last weekend’s quiet announcement
that 500 new prison places are to be provided for women, marking the apparent
failure of a clear existing policy to reduce women’s imprisonment. There is a
long way still to travel to achieve a rational, evidence based approach to
Peter has also written about this issue for The i Paper, click here to read the article.