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Create a new legal framework for prisons

We will create a new legal framework for prisons, strengthening the inspectorate and ombudsman to provide sharper external scrutiny.

Our Verdict

Different elements of the UK prison system have developed at different times and in different ways, so responsibilities can be blurred and unclear, something identified as problematic by the previous government. In this context, independent oversight bodies such as the Inspectorate of Prisons and the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman, which check the safety and fairness of treatment of prisoners, are hindered in effectively carrying out their duties.

This policy promises to rectify that with a new legal framework providing sharper external scrutiny of the prison system.

In February 2017, the then government presented the Prisons and Courts Bill, proposing reforms to the Inspectorate and the Ombudsman. But the bill fell with the dissolution of Parliament in May 2017.

The “courts” element of the bill has been resurrected in the form of the Courts and Tribunals Bill, but there’s no evidence of “a new legal framework for prisons”.  In a speech on prison reform in March 2018, the Justice Secretary only mentioned inspections to say:

“I will also carry on with…work to ensure inspection reports are acted upon.”

That resulted in the implementation of the Urgent Notification protocol, which requires government to rapidly respond to serious problems identified during prison inspections.

But this policy promises a new legal framework, which would by definition require legislation. The absence of prison reform legislation from the Queen’s Speech in June 2017 was commented on with concern and disappointment by the Chief Inspector of Prisons and other interested parties.

With no evidence of legislative action since the general election, we consider this ‘not started’. It will be updated to ‘in progress’ if the government presents a new “prisons bill”, proposing to strengthen external oversight. Follow this policy to see what develops.

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