Corporate Crime analysis: According to Dean Kingham, head of prison law, public law and crime at Swain & Co Solicitors, the government has missed an opportunity to use the Prisons and Courts Bill for wholesale change to prisoners and prisons.
Prisons and Courts Bill — measures relating to prisons
Prisons and Courts Bill to focus on reforming prisoners, LNB News 23/02/2017 74
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says the Prisons and Courts Bill will introduce the biggest overhaul of prisons in a generation, and the delivery of a world-class UK court system. It includes a range of measures to improve the victim and vulnerable witnesses in court protections.
What are the key measures relating to prisons proposed in the Bill?
Given the Bill has prisons in its title one would have expected a lot more of the Bill to relate to prisons. The key measure relates to it being enshrined into law for the first time that the purpose of prison is to reform and rehabilitate offenders and prepare them for life outside prison.
Additionally, a new power will be introduced allowing mobile phone signals to be interfered with along with drug testing for psychoactive substances.
The role and ambit of the Prison and Probation Ombudsman is also put on a wider footing.
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What problems with the existing law/system are these measures seeking to address?
It is hard to see what is trying to be achieved within the context of the prison related sections. Much of what is said about the Prison and Probation Ombudsman is already in place.
Given the negative media coverage, the government is clearly trying to deal with the widespread use of mobile phones by inmates in prison and the use of the psychoactive substances such as spice. Both provisions are sensible but don’t really deal with the fundamental underlying problems.
To what extent do you think the new measures are practical and capable of being effectively implemented and enforced?
Clause 1 of the Bill places a statutory duty on prisons aiming to reform and rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them for life outside. This provision attracted wide spread media coverage and was generally well received. However, I have concerns with whether this is just smoke and mirrors by the government.
The government has long been taken to task by the courts in respect of its duty to provide life sentence prisoners with access to risk reductions reform work by the time they appear before the Parole Board. There have been many cases whereby the courts have held this duty has been breached. It is very easy to say there is a duty but a whole different story in ensuring the Prison Service has the required resources to reform, rehabilitate and prepare prisoners for life outside.
The economic argument for this is telling, as it is suggested re-offending costs the UK approximately £15bn a year. On this basis the government, rather than cutting costs as it has done throughout the Prison Service, should be providing funds to ensure courses are consistently run (not with a huge waiting list for places), the core day is full of activities for prisoners and the required number of staff are on duty.
If the government continues to cut funding to the Prison Service then none of the provisions contained within the Bill will be capable of being achieved. If there are limited staff on duty there is no time for them to drug test or seek out contraband.
In your opinion do the provisions contained in the Bill go far enough, or does more need to be done?
The government could have used the Prisons and Courts Bill for wholesale change to prisoners and prisons. In recent years David Cameron and Michael Gove have spelt out the case for major prison reform. This Bill does not seek to engage with major reform, but instead tries to stem the negative news coming from prisons on a daily basis.
It has become part of daily life to hear of deaths, violence, riots, staff walk out’s, appalling Prison Inspectorate reports in our prisons and the media scrutiny on the government has been increasing. The government needs to tackle the widespread use of drugs—particularly spice, which is extremely dangerous and fuelling violence/volatility within our prisons.
If it does not get to grips with the problems of violence, drug use, contraband, bullying etc then it has no chance of seeking to reform, rehabilitate and prepare prisoners for life outside prison. I go into prison daily and within the last 12 months have regularly heard clients refer to their residence as a war-zone, with many scared to leave their cells.
What are the implications for practitioners and those advising in this area? What steps should they be taking in preparation and how should they be advising clients?
Little will change in the nature of the advice being given by practitioners. The removal of legal aid in large areas of prison law has led to us routinely advising clients to seek redress via the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. My concern is that, given the issues in the prison system, the workload of the Ombudsman is increasing and the time being taken to investigate complaints is increasing. Issues such as these only serve to frustrate an already frustrated population.
If I have clients waiting access to programmes I will be advising them to submit applications to the prison governor reminding him/her of the aim to rehabilitate and reform.
Dean Kingham represents prisoners at parole hearings and prison disciplinary hearings. He is known for dealing with the most complex parole cases, often representing those with very complex presentations and needs. Dean is passionate about miscarriages of justice and is committed to assisting prisoners who maintain their innocence. He is Parole Board lead for the Association of Prison Lawyers and sits on the Parole Board user group and Parole Standards Board. In addition to prison law matters, Dean also specialises in criminal appeals, judicial review applications and human rights challenges.
Interviewed by Kate Beaumont.
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