The Prison and Courts Bill: a chance for real change in our prisons?

The Justice Secretary Liz Truss has announced that with her Prison and Courts Bill she intends to reform the prison system with an emphasis on turning prisons into centres of 'reform and rehabilitation' rather than simply a place where offenders are housed.

Ms Truss plans to give Governors greater autonomy to implement the educational programmes that they think will benefit prisoners the most. She also intends to change the way prisoners are staffed, so that each prison officer is allocated a group of six individual prisoners. The theory is the officer will be able to build better relationships with the prisoners and a better understanding of their concerns, thereby improving safety.

These moves should be welcomed in principle. It is obvious that our prisons are in crisis and a re-think is needed to not only break the cycle of offending and re-offending but also ensure that prisons are safe, humane environments in which prisoners are afforded the opportunities to turn their lives around.

However these do not deal with major problems of underfunding, overcrowding and a shortage of prison officers. Without dealing with these issues it seems that many problems experienced by prisoners will persist. Saunders Law acts for many clients who have been unable to progress through their sentence due to unlawful delays caused by either the Ministry of Justice or Parole Board. These delays can amount to a breach of the right to liberty provided by Article 5 of the Human Rights Act 1998. We also see time and again vulnerable prisoners suffering from mental health problems who are not given the supervision and support they require; prison officers responsible for their safety are not equipped with the skills or knowledge to understand their particular vulnerabilities. This can lead to violence, self-harm and at worst, suicide.

The reforms being discussed are clearly well intentioned but if they are not backed up with the financial and other resources required to truly give them effect, prisoners are unlikely to reap the benefits. Prison reform should not simply be a way for the government to achieve political capital - it must be remembered that vulnerable lives are at stake.

Civil Liberties Lawyers, London

Our specialist Civil Liberties lawyers at Saunders have brought a range of successful civil claims for compensation on behalf of prisoners who have been mistreated, injured or discriminated against in prison. We can also help you to challenge ongoing mistreatment or unlawful decisions through a judicial review application to court.

For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion of whether we may be able to help, please contact us today.

Call us on 02076324300 or make an enquiry online or write to us at Saunders Law, Essex Hall, 1-6 Essex Street, London, WC2R 3HY
Please note that we are not able to represent prisoners in prison law matters such as adjudications or parole reviews.


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