Proposed changes that would abolish volunteer-led Prison Visiting Committees and replace them with two levels of paid and unpaid monitors, have been questioned by the Justice Committee in a report published today.
The current Prison Visiting Committees are statutory bodies who monitor prison conditions and investigate prisoners’ requests and complaints. The proposed legislation would create two, new roles of paid prison monitors and unpaid lay monitors, both of whom would come under the management of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons Scotland.
In its report on the proposed draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) (Scotland) Order 2014, the Justice Committee has expressed concern on how the two roles of inspection and monitoring will retain their operational independence if they come under the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
The Committee also wants to ensure that prisoners know the difference between monitors and inspectors and their respective responsibilities.
Justice Committee Convener Christine Grahame MSP said:
“Though our Committee welcomes the move to ensure that prison monitoring in Scotland becomes compliant with *United Nations protocol against torture, we also have a number of reservations about the arrangements being proposed.
“We’re not convinced that two levels of monitoring are needed and if paid and lay monitors have different roles, such as in dealing with prisoners’ concerns, it could cause real confusion among prisoners.
“There must also be a clear, understandable distinction between the roles of monitors and inspectors. If, for example, a prisoner is being bullied, he may not feel he can trust a paid official from the inspectorate, but could be able to talk to a volunteer monitor who regularly visits the prison.”
The proposed draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) (Scotland) Order 2014 (“the draft Order”) was laid on Friday 4 October 2013.
The draft Order makes amendments to the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989 to abolish Prison Visiting Committees and create the roles of prison monitors and lay monitors who will both be appointed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons Scotland.
The Committee is responding to a statutory consultation on the draft Order. The Scottish Government is required to take regard of this report before laying a finalised Order for consideration of the Parliament.
*Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)