Monday, 28 April 2014

8 years in prison later, is this good value for the hardworking taxpayer?

Simon Spence QC of Red Lion Court Chambers has reported that a man given an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) with a minimum of 4 years in custody has been in prison for 12 years because the facility in which he has been detained does not provide the rehabilitation courses that are required as a condition of his release.

The revelation comes as the scope of legal aid available to prisoners has been severely restricted in recent cuts by the Justice Department. With prisoners now unable to access legal aid for most prison matters, we can expect to see many more such inefficiencies in our prison system.

The cuts to legal aid are a false economy. Though they reduce short term-expenditure, legal aid cuts are creating secondary costs elsewhere in the Government budget. It costs the Treasury around £40,000 per year in order to keep a category B prisoner detained.  If appropriate action had been taken in the above case, the Treasury could have potentially saved around £320,000; taxpayers’ money that would likely have been better spent elsewhere.

First, we can reduce the sometimes unnecessarily long terms of some IPP prisoners. A decision to retain an IPP prisoner in custody can be made with the stroke of a pen on the basis of scant evidence. This means that rehabilitated offenders could be detained for far longer than is necessary, increasing costs and putting further strains on our Prison Service. By restoring prisoners’ access to legal aid, such arbitrary and detrimental decisions are challenged when they occur.

Second, we can ensure that the Prison Service provides appropriate rehabilitation courses to IPP prisoners so that they have the opportunity to be released when their custodial tariff is completed. Ensuring that prisoners are rehabilitated and therefore less likely to offend, will further reduce costs elsewhere in the justice system, as well as in policing costs.

The government’s policy of cutting legal aid will not help it achieve its aims of deficit reduction. It will also have the less quantifiable cost of restricting access to justice to some of the most vulnerable. Even convicted offenders need the protection of our justice system. This is a potentially grave cost that returns very little benefit to the taxpayer.

- The views of members of Wainwright & Cummins’ Prison Law Department do not necessarily reflect those of the firm or the partners

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