The Prison Reform Trust – Talking Justice : Talking Sense

‘Prisons have become warehouses of our social problems’

Colin Moses – Chairman of POA Prison Officers Association 2002-2011


The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) is, in their own words, ‘an independent UK charity working to create a just, humane and effective penal system‘.

They have recently released a six minute film called ‘Talking Justice : Talking Sense’ presenting the case for prison as a last resort, as prisons reach close to capacity.

There are some poignant messages and certainly some food for thought as the loopholes and pitfalls of the current system are highlighted, and they make for some grave results.

The conclusion is finding alternatives. Restorative Justice comes up as one positive suggestion as Peter Woolf, a man who spent 18.5 years in prison and committed thousands of crimes finally found the will to change after facing his last victim Will Riley, in a meeting that changed both of their lives. For the better.

Take six minutes to watch the film HERE.

There is also a chance to hear each contributor speak for two minutes each HERE.

There must be…There are alternatives and these are being demonstrated in other countries but we seem so fascinated, obsessed with locking people up in this country from a very early age and for quite minor offences that we lose sight of the fact that prison should be for serious offenders and only that justifies the expense.’

Paul Tidball

President, Prison Governors Association 2006 – 2010

‘It shouldn’t become a big private industry that trades on people’s misery. It shouldn’t be an alternative welfare state where the vulnerable, the mentally ill and the illiterate founder away for years on end with no hope of rehabilitation.’

Shami Chakrabarti

Director, Liberty


Article: ‘Prison leaves 17,000 children separated from their mothers’.

I came across this GUARDIAN ARTICLE whilst doing some research. It was published a couple of months ago, and details the statistics from research undertaken by the Howard League – a penal reform trust.

The report, called ‘The Voice of a Child’, showed that over 17,000 children were separated from their mothers in England and Wales in 2010.

                                                 IMAGE: THE GUARDIAN

The consequences cause ‘long term emotional, social and psychological damage’ for the children because of restrictions on visiting hours which are mainly only allowed during daytimes when children should be at school.

The Howard League also found that many of the mothers were imprisoned for non-violent offences, which could have been punished in the community, meaning that 11,000 of these cases would not have lead to the separation of mother and child.

The matter is also affected by the number of women who are in prison awaiting trial, only to be found not guilty.

The Howard League suggests that mothers should be placed in secure units that can provide better visiting hours, and also to end the imprisonment of those who are convicted of non-violent offences.


Prison Statistics.

I mentioned in passing in the first post that prisons had reached a record number of inmates. Using the Prison Population Statistics from Parliament UK I can explain these in more detail, and also take a look at a couple of other findings from the report.

The report was published 7th November 2011.

  • On 5th November the prison population across the entire prison estate in England and Wales stood at 87,749. This is 1650 places below full capacity. This is partly blamed on the arrests from the August Riots which totalled 846.
  • On 22nd February 2008, the population exceeded useable capacity for the first time.
  • Capacity is measured as 2000 places below the operational capacity, as this allows room for those with special requirements, extra space or separation.

Though the prisons are at the moment below capacity, this does not mean that prisons are not full. Populations vary. At the end of September 2011, 85 of the prisons (63%) were overcrowded. Of these, 15% were at levels of 150% of capacity.

Capacity is measured using CNA – Certified Normal Accomodation.

Scotland reached 8,000 inmates in August 2008.

Here are some interesting comments found under Section 1.7 Overcrowding:

Although there is a lack of empirical evidence, the anecdotal evidence suggests that prison overcrowding leads to an increase in re-offending. Approximately two-thirds of adult offenders commit an offence within two-years of release from prison and are subsequently convicted in court.

In a speech in September 2005 the then Home Secretary, Rt. Hon Charles Clarke MP, emphasised the need to reduce prisoners’ re-offending by improving their employability, treating drug and alcohol addiction and maintaining family links via a new network of community prisons. The Prison Reform Trust, which the Home Secretary was addressing, suggested that overcrowding hazards these ambitions.

A National Audit Office report concluded that prison overcrowding disrupts work to prevent re-offending and prisons should therefore change the way they deliver education courses.

The Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the rehabilitation of offenders suggested that ‘overcrowding is having a hugely damaging impact on the delivery of rehabilitative regimes across the prison estate, both in terms of quality and quantity of appropriate interventions’. 

Similar comments were made in a report by the Social Exclusion Unit in 2002:

There is a growing consensus that we are sending some people to prison who should not be there. Short prison sentences are not appropriate for all the offenders who currently receive them; and too many people with severe mental illness are in prison rather than secure treatment facilities. All of this contributes to the problem of overcrowding, which in turn limits the capacity of prisons, probation and other services to work effectively to reduce re- offending.

You can read the full report here.


The cost of keeping one inmate in prison for one year is £40,000+. It’s pretty staggering, and probably more than what a lot of people pay for their own living. Of course you can’t put a price on security, and punishment is essential for those that take the law into their own hands. But for £40,000 you would also hope that the best steps are taken to prevent future offending. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. 80% of under 21 year olds who have been to prison re-offend within two years. The figure is 70% for those over the age of 21.

If there is a solution or a way to improve these figures, I can only imagine that there has never been a better a time to begin implementing them, as prisons are crowded more than ever.

Restorative Justice: Panorama Special

An interesting and relevant programme which is available to watch was aired last week; Panorama: Meet The Burglars.

The programme is about a new scheme for offenders called Restorative Justice. The government has backed it, and it is now used by police at their discretion. Victims are able to meet face to face with their burglars in an attempt to give victims a chance to ask questions, as well as allow the offender to show remorse and understand the impact of their actions.

The scheme, lead by Remedi, also allows the victims to feel empowered, as they help to decide what sort of community service or punishment they would like to see. In one case during the programme, one victim reveals that she only wanted to meet her offender to kill him and take revenge after the violent ordeal she was put through. Upon meeting him, she realised that the offender ‘wasn’t worth it’ which put her anger to rest.

The implementation of this action comes with its own complications. The first issue is with the voluntary intent of both the victim and the offender. Director of Remedi, Steve Jones says that it is imperative to keep the approach voluntary because as soon as the actions are forced, or communication is forced, it ‘potentially damages the integrity of that information…It should be about truth’.

Secondly, the worry is that crimes of a more serious nature that should be referred to court will be settled with a light punishment.

These seem to be simple precautions that need to made with good judgement. As this is a different response, as opposed to the usual straight to court route, it greys the normal black and white approach. Which is a good thing.


  • When using Restorative Justice, victims are 40% less symptomatic of post-traumatic stress.
  • Police are able to tackle situations with less paperwork and wasted time.
  • The Criminal Justice Service saves money every time a meeting for Restorative Justice goes ahead.
  • And, because the re-offending rates are lower after Restorative Justice, even more money is saved.

Unfortunately, the programme also highlights a lack of funding for the scheme, despite its positive results.

Watch the programme here.