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MSPs call for evidence on abolishing prison visiting committees

10 October 2013

Whether prison visiting committees should be abolished is the subject of the latest call for evidence from Holyrood's Justice Committee, as it considers a proposed ministerial order that would have that effect.

The draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) Order 2014 was laid in the Scottish Parliament on 4 October. The order would abolish prison visiting committees and creates new roles for prison monitors and lay monitors.

Overseeing the monitoring of prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners would become an additional responsibility of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Prison monitors, who may receive a salary and allowances, would be expected to report on conditions and the treatment of prisoners in assigned prisons at least once a month. Assisted by lay monitors, they would be entitled to access any part of the prison and to speak to a prisoner, prison staff or visitor and examine records without prior notice.

At present, prison visiting committees must be given free access to prisons and prisoners at any time in order to monitor conditions and the treatment of prisoners. Members are appointed for adult prisons by local authorities, and for young offenders institutions by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Members visit prisons frequently to hear any prisoner complaints and report matters to governors and Scottish ministers.

Last year the then Chief Inspector, Brigadier Hugh Munro, voiced concerns as to whether Scotland's prisons would continue to be effectively and independently monitored under the new regime (click here for report). Ministers believe the current system is not as effective and efficient as it could be.

Amendments

The draft order has been laid under the super-affirmative procedure, which allows the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise a draft of the order and suggest amendments to it prior to ministers laying a finalised order that Parliament has to decide whether to approve, without the possibility of amendment.

Justice Committee convener Christine Grahame MSP said: “We want to hear the views of people at the sharp end of these proposals to reform the monitoring of Scottish prisons and prisoners. We hope that representatives from both inside and outside the prison walls will let us know what they think.

“What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Chief Inspector of Prisons taking on this new role of monitoring as well as his existing duties? Will prison monitors be an improvement on existing prison visiting committees, and is it right they should receive a salary? And what about the impact of these changes on prisoners?

“Once we have received all written evidence we will hold an evidence session in November.”

Click here to view the call for evidence. Submissions should be received by 8 November 2013.

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