Andrew Dixon signs letter urging government to grant “compassionate release” to non-violent vulnerable prisoners
Andrew Dixon, founder of ARC InterCapital and The Woodhaven Trust, has signed a letter urging the government to release vulnerable and non-violent prisoners from prison under temporary license in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus in our prison system.
Coordinated by the Responsible Business Initiative and signed by leaders from the business, charity and legal communities, the letter warns against the close proximity of inmates in the British prison system – and how that might cause coronavirus to “spread exponentially”. The letter also states that an outbreak inside prison facilities could quickly spread to surrounding areas outside of the prison through the thousands of British citizens that go into prisons every day.
Addressed to the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland MP, the letter urges the government to release vulnerable and non-violent prisoners on temporary license falling into the following categories, unless there is clear and convincing evidence the individual would present a current and unreasonable risk to the safety of the community.
- The elderly
- All people who are medically vulnerable
- All people with six months or less remaining on a sentence
- Pregnant women
- All people awaiting trial for a non-violent offence
The letter says: “Many of us in the business and legal communities have already taken unprecedented steps to ensure the safety of our employees, our customers, our clients and the general public.
“By taking these steps, we acknowledge the need for drastic action to protect the most vulnerable among us. However, to truly protect people in our communities and our justice system, we must urgently reduce our prison population.
“By taking this step to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you will also help reduce the enormous pressure on our National Health Service. We ask that you do everything in your power to help our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals fight this battle.”
Founded in 2008, The Woodhaven Trust is a family foundation that was set up to advance prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation. The Trust supports causes that provide offenders and ex-offenders with the skills and training they need to secure employment, breaking the cycle of offending. The Trust has gone on to support land tax reform causes and projects that help young people develop their entrepreneurship and leadership skills.
Do you think the safety and wellbeing of prisoners is given insufficient consideration?
Firstly, congratulations to the Responsible Business Initiative for coordinating this very important letter. For a long time, our prison system has been suffering from a period of overcrowding, and there are certainly more people in prison than there needs to be – and more than the system can handle. Many of these people would be better provided for via rehabilitation schemes.
The problem with overcrowding has also been exasperated by a lack of focus on rehabilitation over the last decade or so. Chris Grayling’s Transforming Rehabilitation initiative did not deliver the impact that had been expected. Many offenders leave prison and are not provided with the skills and training that they need to find employment – so important to break the cycle of offending. This has meant that reoffending rates and the number of people in prison are much higher than they could otherwise have been.
Why does looking after the safety and consideration of our offenders help not only them, but society as a whole?
Ultimately, I don’t believe this is something that should be balanced by merely weighing up the positives and negatives; instead, I have always believed that as a society we should be judged by how we treat our most disadvantaged. I think that principle matters.
But, even aside from the principle, we know that everyone benefits from treating offenders more fairly; from ensuring that they can be productive and valuable members of society. If we created pathways for more our prisoners to find jobs outside of prison or go into entrepreneurship, not only would crime fall, but we would have a society with more businesses, jobs, tax receipts and wealth.
This was one of the motivations behind my support of the Centre of Entrepreneurs research into prison entrepreneurship. The conclusions of that report were very compelling. It found that encouraging entrepreneurship could result in savings to the government and wider society worth of up to £1.4 billion annually on the cost of ex-prisoner reoffending.
What should be done to protect the prison population from coronavirus?
Against this background, it is now clear that the government needs to take immediate action to ensure that our prisons are as safe as possible and mitigate against the risk of an outbreak that could spread exponentially. Once infected, many elderly and other vulnerable prisoners stand to become extremely ill and at great risk. As the letter says, current estimates project fatalities exceeding 1 percent of the incarcerated population, amounting to over 800 deaths.
The Rt. Hon. Robert Buckland QC MP
Member of Parliament for South Swindon
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
Dear Lord Chancellor,
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate, we urge you to exercise your executive powers granted under section 248 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to release vulnerable and non-violent offenders from our prisons and jails.
We want to express our support for the proposals already under consideration, such as the immediate release of pregnant women. We also ask that you go further. Many of us in the business and legal communities have already taken unprecedented steps to ensure the safety of our employees, our customers, our clients and the general public. By taking these steps, we acknowledge the need for drastic action to protect the most vulnerable among us. However, to truly protect people in our communities and our justice system, we must urgently reduce our prison population.
As you will be aware, given the close proximity of inmates, the outbreak in British prisons will spread exponentially unless immediate action is taken. Once infected, many elderly and other vulnerable prisoners stand to become extremely ill and die. Current estimates project fatalities exceeding 1 percent of the incarcerated population, amounting to over 800 deaths.
Furthermore, we know that just one person carrying COVID-19 can infect dozens of others in close quarters. Every single day, thousands of British citizens go to work inside our prisons then return to their communities. Any outbreaks inside facilities will quickly spread to the surrounding areas, causing unnecessary suffering and preventable deaths.
Releasing vulnerable and low-risk individuals will lighten the immense burden on prison staff. With over 10 percent of this workforce already self-isolating, we ask you to lessen this load and assist them in their crucial service.
By taking this step to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you will also help reduce the enormous pressure on our National Health Service. We ask that do everything in your power to help our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals fight this battle.
Therefore, we urge you to grant compassionate release on temporary license to the following categories of prisoners, unless there is clear and convincing evidence an individual would present a current and unreasonable risk to the physical safety of the community:
1. The elderly;
2. All people who are medically vulnerable;
3. All people with six months or less remaining on a sentence;
4. Pregnant women; and
5. All people awaiting trial for a non-violent offence.
To continue detaining these vulnerable inmates is tantamount to a death sentence for many. It presents an unacceptable risk of infection to inmates, prison staff and the general public.
We implore you to take swift action now to protect our communities, our NHS, and our justice system.
Alan McGee, Founder, Creation23
Ali Niaz, Joint Principal, BPureSounds.
Alice Morgan, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and Solicitor, Sidley Austin LLP
Andrew Dixon, Founder, ARC InterCapital and The Woodhaven Trust
Anita Davies, Barrister, Matrix Chambers
Baroness Martha Lane-Fox of Soho CBE, Crossbench Life Peer, Co-Founder, lastminute.com
Ben Sturge, Business Development Consultant, Fonesavvy
Caitlin Heising, Vice Chair, Heising‐Simons Foundation; member of Advisory Council, RBIJ
Camille Le Pors, Programme Manager, Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, World Benchmarking Alliance
Celia Ouellette, Chief Executive Officer, Responsible Business Initiative for Justice
Chris Daw QC, Barrister, Serjeants’ Inn
Daniel Miller, Founder, Mute Records
Dayo Okewale, Chief of Staff to Lord Hastings at the House of Lords, and Co-Chair on Equal Justice, Nexus Global
Gary Stewart, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, The Nest
George Turner, Co-Founder, Carney’s Community
Hugh Hudson, Film Director, Hudson Film
Hugh Lenon, Chairman and Co-Founder, Phoenix Equity Partners
Hugh Southey QC, Barrister, Matrix Chambers
James Longster, Partner, Travers Smith LLP
Lady Edwina Grosvenor, Philanthropist and Prison Reformer, Founder and Ambassador, The Clink Charity, and Founder and Chair, One Small Thing
Michael Conn, Founder, Titanium Music
Michael Corrigan, Founder, Resume Foundation
Nick Armstrong, Barrister, Matrix Chambers
Paul John Birch, Founder, Revolve Records
Paul van Zyl, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, The Conduit
Phillippa Kaufmann QC, Barrister, Matrix Chambers
Rod Anderson, Chief Operating Officer, Code4000 UK
Sabrina Mahtani, Lawyer and Penal Reform Expert, Senior Policy Advisor at The Elders Foundation
Samantha Knights QC, Barrister, Matrix Chambers
Samuel Coe, Barrister
Sylvia Coleman, Co-Founder and Joint Principal, BPureSounds
The Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE, Crossbench Life Peer, Vice President of Catch 22, previously Chairman of Crime Concern
Zia Bhaloo QC, Barrister, Landmark Chambers