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Justice and Fairness in Prisons · 10 Mar 2021

Learning lessons for the future

After publishing our latest briefing on the use of additional days of imprisonment, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice to send him the publication and request his views. When Robert Buckland was briefly prisons minister he had shown a great deal of interest in the issue of prison discipline and we were pleased to be engaging with him on the same topic now that he is Secretary of State.

In his response, which we publish today, the Secretary of State makes a welcome commitment to the principle that prisons should be places of justice where both staff and prisoners feel safe. He also agrees that the reduction in additional days of imprisonment, which latest figures show have reduced by 86 per cent on the same period in 2019, provides an opportunity to learn lessons for the future.

Lasting change for the better should be embedded as prisons move into a recovery phase

The Secretary of State’s letter outlines some of the reasons for the drop in the use of additional days, from changes to policy and practice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to the possibility that restrictions to prison regimes have also impacted on prisoners’ behaviour.

We are less convinced by the latter explanation, although it is undoubtedly true that locking individuals up for twenty-three hours a day leaves very little opportunity for clashes with authority. That shouldn’t, of course, be an excuse for keeping people in prisons enduring such intolerable conditions for a day longer than is strictly necessary.

As prisons move into a recovery phase, the work of a postponed adjudications policy review will become all the more important. The Howard League will continue to monitor the situation and engage with ministers and officials at the Ministry of Justice, in the hope that lasting change for the better can be embedded as prisons look slowly to move forward and away from what has been a hugely challenging twelve months for everyone involved in the system. 

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