Should Prison Visiting Committees be abolished, asks Justice Committee?

10.10.2013

The proposed abolishment of Prison Visiting Committees and their replacement model is under the spotlight today as the Justice Committee publishes its call for evidence on the issue.

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

The Chief Inspector of Prisons will also be expected to take on the additional role of overseeing the monitoring of prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners. While prison monitors, who may receive a salary and allowances, will be expected to report on conditions and the treatment of prisoners in assigned prisons at least once a month.

The prison monitors will also be entitled to access any part of the prison and to speak to a prisoner, prison staff or visitor and examine records without any prior notice. Lay monitors will assist them in their duties.

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.”

Please find below a link to the call for evidence with all submission to be received by 8 November 2013.

Prison Visiting Committees

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 of the PVC are appointed for each prison and undertake the work on a voluntary basis. Local authorities appoint Visiting Committee members for adult prisons and members for Young Offenders Institutes are appointed by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. PVC members visit prisons frequently to hear any prisoner complaints and report matters to Governors and Scottish Ministers.

Procedure

The draft Order has been laid under the super-affirmative procedure. This allows the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise a draft of the order and suggest amendments to it. After this consultation stage, the Scottish Government will then be able to lay a finalised order before Parliament.  Once this happens, the order cannot be amended and Parliament will then decide whether to approve it.

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