e-Bulletin: Friday, 28 May

Friday, 28 May 2021

More than a quarter of all prisoners in England and Wales are held in prisons built in the Victorian era.

Some jails are even older. Brixton Prison in south London opened in 1818. The Covid-19 crisis is prompting a major rethink of how we will live and work in the future. Yet prisons remain stuck in the past: a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.

The resulting policy inertia is palpable. The per capita prison population across England and Wales is far higher than comparable European countries. Our imprisonment rate is almost twice Germany’s.

"We want to reduce the female prison population", the Female Offender Strategy stated in June 2018. Three years on, the number of female prisoners has fallen; in good part because of the disruption to the courts during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Yet the government recently announced plans to build 500 more women's prison places. We need fundamental systems change, Liz Hogarth argued in a pamphlet for us a few years ago, to get us out of the 'justice loop'.

Plans to expand women's prisons come on top of those to spend more than £2 billion on a new generation of prisons; institutions that could last well into the 22nd century and beyond.

The way we work, relax, socialise and live will likely be transformed in the coming years. Our approach to prisons risks staying locked in the past. 

There is always better use for a piece of land than as a place for a prison. Coming to terms with our overuse of imprisonment and charting a way to a lower-imprisonment future could form part of a fitting legacy of the Covid-19 crisis.

Richard Garside


We're pleased to announce our final speaker, Dr Zubaida Haque (Independent SAGE) who will join Chantal Edge, Dr Éamonn O'Moore and Nasrul Ismail for our third and final COVID-19 in prisons webinar on 16 June, 9.30am - 11.30am (BST). This event will focus on preparedness for future pandemics in prisons. To find out more, head to our events page and register.

News and Commentary

Our Director, Richard Garside wrote an article for The House Magazine expanding on his editorial above on policy inertia at the heart of prisons policy and the opportunity Covid-19 has offered to reduce the prison population.

We are part of an alliance to end the penalisation of poverty. The 'Is it a crime to be poor' (ICP) alliance regularly publishes blogs on different aspects of our joint work on this issue. Keep an eye out for regular updates published on our website and on the ICP homepage.

Projects latest

In the last e-Bulletin, Helen Mills introduced our latest project on joint enterprise. This week, Matt Ford gives a bit of context around why we are doing this work and how it builds on our previous collaboration with academics and JENGbA, resulting in Dangerous Assocations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism.

An eye on criminal justice

After the failures and waste of Transforming Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Justice last week revealed which charities and companies will share more than £200 million of probation-related work.

  • £45 million has been ringfenced for services to women
  • £33 million has been awarded to homeless charities
  • £33 million goes to organisations who train, upskill and provide employment support
  • £118 million has been awarded to organisations who support people with their personal relationships and mental health

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a new report on the rights of children whose mothers are in prison and the right to family life. The Committee has tabled five amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to ensure the rights of the child to family life are upheld. We have published a couple of articles by Rona Epstein - who is researching this very issue - on mothers in prison and the rights of children to family life which you can find here.

One particular cause for concern over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is the impact it could have on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. The Bill proposes to strengthen police powers to criminalise those living on unauthorised encampments, going so far as to permit the seizure of property. You can find out more about this particular area of legislative scutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights here.

As the population of women in the estate is expected to rise in line with police recruitment expansion, the Justice Committee recently launched an inquiry to further understand the specific needs of women in prison. The latest development is a Call for Evidence on how to reduce the amount of women in custody, what has happened since the release of the Female Offender Strategy and how the estate can meet the needs of women in prison.


We have a fantastic line-up of speakers for our new programme of events starting in September. We will reveal more soon so keep an eye out here for more over June and July.

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