Autumn Spending Review – Jeremy Pinson, Specialist Prison Lawyer, Considers the Missed Opportunities for the Ministry of Justice
The Chancellor in the Autumn Spending Review yesterday announced a number of changes to the prison estate which seek to achieve further efficiencies with an investment of 1.3 billion to ‘reform and modernise’ the existing system.
Increase in Video Conferencing Technology
The changes proposed include an increase in the use of video conferencing facilities. The government estimates 90,000 cases a year will be heard from prison. It was later clarified that this related to bail applications, however, as a defendant is not necessarily produced for a bail hearing, it is not clear what exactly the government is actually referring to. Video link facilities already exist in the majority of the prison estate and are already utilised for a number of hearings.
Investment in Prison Estate
There is also reference to a new 1.3 billion investment in the prison estate. It would appear that this is not new investment at all but merely the redirection of funds from the sale of centralised local prisons on prime real estate to the private sector. It will be interesting to see whether the proposed nine new modern prisons will be built and run by the public sector.
HMP Holloway – Largest Female Prison in Europe to Close
The closure of HMP Holloway referred to as the biggest women’s jail in Western Europe is also to be welcomed.
George Osborne, Chancellor, said:
“I can tell the House that Holloway Prison, the biggest women’s jail in western Europe, will close.
By selling these old prisons, we will create more space for housing in our inner cities, for another of the great social failures of our age has been the failure to build enough houses.
In the end, spending reviews like this come down to choices about what are priorities are. I am clear, in this spending review, we choose to build.”
HMP Holloway is a closed category prison for adult women and young offenders located in Holloway in Islington, London, It was opened in 1852 as a mixed-sex prison but became female only in 1903 due to growing demand for female prisoners. Holloway was completely re-built on the same site between 1971 and 1985. Holloway has housed some of the most notorious female prisoners of recent years.
Many welcomed the announcement with Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust commenting:
“Selling off Holloway for social housing is the clearest message to the courts that prison is not the place to dump vulnerable women who have committed petty, non-violent offences and who have so often been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse themselves.”
It is however extremely disappointing that the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has not embarked upon embracing a programme of reducing the numbers of women who are actually incarcerated through current penal policy. The mere redirection of women prisoners to more modern facilities appears to overlook the more enlightened policy of attempting to deal with low level offending through care and support in the community.
Jeremy Pinson – Specialist Prison Lawyer
Written by Jeremy Pinson, specialist prison law solicitor. Jeremy has acted for serving prisoners in numerous prison law matters. He has also been involved in challenges to the Parole Board by way of Judicial Review and continues to represent prisoners in relation to applications before the Parole Board. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Association of Prison Lawyers and a member of the Proceeds of Crime Lawyers Association.