UK prisons: looking for positive initiatives

Arianna Silvestri
Thursday, 7 November 2013

Are you aware of any initiatives, policies, strategies or attitudes that contribute to improving conditions or enhance the rights of people imprisoned in the UK? If so, please get in touch and tell us what they are.

We are looking for examples of what can be said to constitute ‘good’ - or ‘better’ – practice in the management of prisons in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is the UK partner of the European Prison Observatory project, which monitors prison conditions in order to bring about improvements and to sensitise penitentiary systems to human rights issues in both adults and juvenile institutions. We investigate the way prisons are run in each of the partner countries, looking at how prison life, from admission to release, compares to the expectations set by European minimum standards.

The project is based on multilateral cooperation and aims to be the first step towards developing a pan-European network that keeps detention conditions under ongoing scrutiny.

We want to identify which models, experiments or parts of legislation could be said to be bringing about positive change in inmates’ lives. We are interested in local as well as national initiatives in all aspects of prison life and conditions, e.g.:

  • Admission practices
  • Accommodation conditions
  • Hygiene, clothing, access to goods
  • Food, nutrition, exercise, wellbeing
  • Health care
  • Work, education and other purposeful activities
  • Access to legal advice and to other support and information
  • Contacts with the outside world
  • Treatment of minorities, women, foreign nationals
  • Order and security, discipline and punishment measures
  • Leave and incentives systems
  • Dealing with harm and ill treatment in prison
  • Release arrangements and ways to help social reintegration and prevent (re)incarceration.

What are ‘positive initiatives’? This is an issue for discussion, but we are thinking of policies and procedures which are characterised, for example, by:

  • Effective accountability systems
  • Independent complaints mechanisms
  • Fundamental safeguards against ill-treatment
  • Treatment and risk assessments of prisoners which are individualised and proportionate
  • Transparency.

So far the project has identified a number of key issues of concern that are common to all the partner countries. These centre around the following areas:

  • Safety and security measures
  • Health
  • Education
  • Training and work opportunities
  • Actions promoting rehabilitation
  • Juvenile detention conditions.

If you are aware of practices, policies or strategies that are innovative, effective or otherwise of interest as alternatives to mainstream prison management, especially in those areas of common concern, please let us know by emailing

Also get in touch if you have any questions or would like more information about our project. We look forward to hearing from you!