Mark Lyttleton: What is the Prison Reform Trust?

Mark Lyttleton is an angel investor and philanthropist and a long-time supporter of the Prison Reform Trust. This article will examine the impact of the Prison Reform Trust and its current programmes and how rehabilitating prisoners is not only beneficial on an individual level but to society as a whole.

The Prison Reform Trust’s ultimate goal is to create a more just, effective and humane prison system. The organisation aims to achieve this by influencing opinion-formers, decision-makers and the wider public to:

  • Reduce the use of prison
  • Improve living conditions for prisoners
  • Promote human rights and equality in the civil justice system

The Prison Reform Trust has been supporting prisoners and their families since 1981, ensuring that those locked into the UK prison system have a voice and are heard. This independent UK charity strives to create a just, effective and humane penal system.

Created to inform and influence public debate on the treatment of prisoners and conditions within UK prisons, the Prison Reform Trust was founded in 1981 at a time when there were considerable concerns about the growing prison population, with experts anticipating that the UK prison population would reach 48,000 by 1984. Today, the prison population of England and Wales is more than 82,000, a figure that is predicted to rise to more than 86,000 in 2023. Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why the Prison Reform Trust’s work remains as important now as ever before.

In addition to improving conditions for prisoners and their families, the Prison Reform Trust aims to reduce prisoner numbers. The organisation hopes to achieve this by influencing Parliament, officials and government towards reform; completing in-depth research into the workings of the UK prison system; and informing staff, prisoners and the wider public.

Recognising how the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the lives of prisoners, their families and prison workers, the Prison Reform Trust launched the Covid Action Prison Project: Tracking Innovation, Valuing Experience (‘CAPPTIVE’). The aim of the initiative was to hear the voices of prisoners and those who care for them most, listening to their own experiences of the pandemic and promoting greater discussion in wider society about what prison life would look like post-COVID-19.

During the pandemic widescale lockdowns meant prisoners were held in cells for up to 23½ hours a day, with the suspension of family visits placing huge strain on prisoners and their families during this unprecedented time. Contributions to the CAPPTIVE project from prisoners, family members and partner organisations informed a series of rapid review reports bringing the insights, experiences and ideas for change to the attention of the prison service, Parliament and the Ministry of Justice.

Meanwhile, the Prison Reform Trust’s Building Futures scheme is a National Lottery Community Fund-financed project implemented to explore the experiences of individuals sentenced to prison terms of 10 or more years. Building Futures explores how long sentences affect prisoners and their families, as well as the wider community. As part of the project, the Prison Reform Trust works closely with prisoners, families and prison staff, providing solutions to shape a prison environment that is humane, safe, fosters hope and encourages accountability. The scheme places an emphasis on promoting prisoner self-advocacy and leadership and the creation of prisoner support networks.

The Prison Reform Trust works closely with the prison service, maintaining close links with government departments including the Home Office, HM Treasury and the Ministry of Justice. However, the Prison Reform Trust does not accept government funding, instead relying on the generosity of trusts and foundations.

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