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15 September 2023

Event: The impact of crisis and scandal on achieving prison reform

Moments of crisis and scandal have been an ever-present feature of the political cycle in England and Wales and the decisions taken in the heat of the moment can, and frequently do, have consequences and policy legacies that last for decades.

This public event seeks to encourage an open, honest and constructive debate about crisis and scandal, and the role they play in shaping policy and practice. It challenges the neat distinction sometimes drawn between ‘normal’ and ‘exceptional’ times is a convenient fiction that distracts us from how our criminal justice system really works.

Locked In? Achieving penal change in the context of crisis and scandal is a new discussion paper, produced as part of a collaboration between the University of Southampton, University of Nottingham and the Prison Reform Trust’s Building Futures programme. The Building Futures programme focuses on how long sentences impact prisoners, their families and wider communities.

Join us and our expert panel as we discuss the forces at work during these periods of intense contestation and reflect upon the tools and resources individuals, organisations and institutions will need if they are to navigate a more principled course during times of extraordinary turmoil.

Event details

Date Thursday 12 October
Time 5–6pm
Location Online


Pia Sinha Chief Executive, Prison Reform Trust
Professor Harry Annison Southampton Law School, University of Southampton— Co-author of the discussion paper
Dr Thomas Guiney Assistant Professor of Criminology, University of Nottingham—Co-author of the discussion paper
David Gauke Former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
Simon Scott Criminal Justice Consultant and PhD Researcher, Nottingham Trent University


To attend please register on the event page on Eventbrite by clicking here

About the discussion paper

Download Locked In? Achieving penal change in the context of crisis and scandal

The paper draws upon the collective knowledge and experience of policy makers, practitioners, penal reformers, academics and prisoners themselves to unpick the reality of what happens when a crisis occurs. Considering “how does it feel for those in prison and how does it feel for professionals working in environments where quick decision-making is vital?”. The speed and heat of the news cycle sets the tempo, rather than calm and cool policy making which could deliver a more effective result. For those serving long sentences, it is often their experience which is shaped most by ever-changing policy responses to risk and perceptions of dangerousness.

The paper suggests that in the midst of a crisis or a case which attracts particular public and political interest, the clamour for “something to be done” can lead to unintended consequences. Furthermore, not enough is done to encourage learning once moments of crisis have passed. In many cases, resourcing, staffing and political pressures mean opportunities to learn from and build back from crises and scandals are not properly utilised.