Prison trust in awareness drive

The Prison Reform Trust has joined forces with a network of venture philanthropists to launch a high-profile campaign that aims to challenge the public's perception about overcrowding in UK jails.

Lucie Russell will leave her post as chief executive at The Big Issue Foundation to head the three-year campaign which will launch in January 2003.

"I intend to lead a campaign that will make serious changes and challenge the Middle England lock-'em-up generation,

said Russell. "We need to win people's hearts and minds by developing a programme that highlights the alternatives to incarceration."

She will take up her new position in October and plans to develop a multi-stranded campaign that will include an advertising and media drive. Building partnerships with voluntary organisations will be a "key part

of the project, as it attempts to reach as wide an audience as possible.

"We're going to be looking at best practice and the different problems associated with the current overcrowding in UK jails,

she said. "After the initial period of building and launching the campaign, we will go on an awareness offensive and look to recruit sponsors to enable the project to grow."

The campaign will be funded by the Network For Social Change, a group of professionals who back programmes to precipitate social reform including the Jubilee 2000 Cancel World Debt campaign. The group will be active partners in the initiative and three of its members will sit on a steering committee that will oversee the progress of the project.

Juliet Lyon, director at the Prison Reform Trust, said the new campaign will be run as an independent programme, and will look to make major changes to a system that is increasingly unable to cope with the volume of convicts.

"We need to communicate the message that the system is not working, and that many ex-prisoners are back in jail within two years,

she said. "We need to highlight the things that are wrong and focus on a direct alternative to the use of custody. We fully support the Government's plans to reduce crime figures and the numbers in our jails."

She said that the main challenge would be to get through to people who are not aware of the extent of overcrowding in UK jails.

"We need to make positive and clear statements in order to engage people who will not recognise the severity of the problem,

she said. "Often conditions in prisons are seen as of little interest or relevance, and this has got to change.

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