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22 December 2021

Christmas and an uncertain year ahead

In this post Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson reflects on this Christmas and the uncertain year ahead.

Last year many people in the community got a small taste of what it’s like to be deprived of the company and traditions that make Christmas special. But it’s always like that in prison, and this year there’s every chance that it will be even harder than usual. We’re pleased that the prison service has reintroduced the free £5 PIN credit, and is doing its best to keep visits running. But the reality is that, as more staff are forced to self-isolate, so the modest improvements that had been happening in some places during the autumn will disappear, at least for a while.

It provides a stark contrast to the very ambitious plans the government published earlier this month for the future of prisons. Many of the ambitions in that document chime with what people in prison have told us about their wishes for the future – the opportunity to learn new skills, undertake meaningful work, be a better parent, put something back and do some good while they’re inside. So we will continue to argue for prisoners’ expertise to be understood and used. But we’ll also continue to point out that the best ambitions in the world can’t be delivered in overcrowded, under-resourced prisons.

In the last year we have answered more inquiries from people in prison than ever before. It’s obvious that the stress of lockdown has only increased, and prisons urgently need to give people back the chance to socialise and make good use of their time. The damage done to people’s sentence progression is a constant theme, especially when release depends on getting a result from the Parole Board. But it’s also been  a year when over half of prisons have got in-cell telephony, everywhere has got video calling, and we’ve used email-a-prisoner to communicate with more people than ever. It just shows that change can happen more quickly when people in authority really want it to.

Everyone at PRT wishes everyone living and working in prison, and all those who care for them, a peaceful Christmas.  We hope – and will work hard – for much better things in 2022.

Peter Dawson