One of the most prominent announcements as part of today’s Queen’s speech was a bill to reform Prisons.
There has been high profile public discourse in the media and at parliament in recent weeks focussing on safety at prisons, suicide rates and the proliferation of drugs and, in particular, New Psychotic Substances (NPS). The statistic making headline news yesterday was that emergency services are called to a prison somewhere in the country once every twenty minutes, with a 104% increase in ambulance callouts in the last four years .
The focus of the Prison and Courts Reform Bill, however, is to be education and rehabilitation of prisoners, with proposals to grant freedom to prison governors in order to increase the opportunities for prisoners and prevent their reoffending.
The government’s decision to focus on rehabilitation and education is no bad thing in itself, and could yield some very positive results in the long term. The failure to even mention a subject which has been prominent in the headlines in recent days, and which has caused untold agony to the families of the deceased prisoners, is disappointing to say the least, however.
It remains unclear whether the extra freedom granted to the governors of prisons will allow them to take any positive steps to improve the safety and security of those detained in state custody and it is noteworthy that at present this new freedom is planned to be extended to six prisons. The Prison Officer’s Association has reacted with some scepticism to the announcements and stressed the need for the government to address the ‘real problems within prisons’
At Lester Morrill we frequently represent at inquest the families of prisoners who have died in custody, and have gained substantial insight into the systemic problems the prison service is beset by.
With regards to self inflicted deaths, Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, recently commented to MPs that ‘there is very little sign that the rise in suicides in custody is abating’, before going on to highlight the repeated recommendations he has made in his report into each prison death for improvements to the prison service; these do not appear to have much traction with those with the authority to make those changes . This is a sentiment that is very familiar to us as similar problems and themes emerge again and again from repeated tragedies that might have been prevented.
Whilst focus will now be on the reforms needed to make prisons the ‘incubators of changed and reformed lives’ mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, perhaps the most pressing and sadly neglected concern remains prison’s capacity to protect those lives from harm.
Lester Morrill specialises in assisting bereaved families through the process of an inquest. To find out more about our services, contact us today.