The Queen’s Speech on Wednesday 21st of June was reported on mostly for what was missed out rather than what was included. The most controversial elements of the Conservative manifesto such as grammar schools, lifting the foxhunting ban and changing social care were notable omissions from the speech as Theresa May’s U-turns continue as she attempts to gain more support amongst the public after a poor election campaign and final result. In regards to the legal system, Michael Gove’s plans to reform the UK’s prison system also seem to be among the list of policies that have been dropped by May, prompting scathing criticism.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said in a rare public intervention that the omission was a ‘missed opportunity’ for tackling the increasing prisoner suicide rates, staff shortages, drug use and violence among inmates. Michael Gove conceded that the primary purpose of a prison is to rehabilitate but the UK is falling short of maintaining the standards that are upheld elsewhere in the world.
Theresa May’s government’s failure to mention the Prison and Courts Bill that had previously received cross-party support strongly suggests that the bill has been abandoned. The bill was introduced this year to mark the start of an initiative to improve prison standards and prioritise the reform and rehabilitation of offenders. After the General Election, the legislation was forgotten and has not since been addressed by the government.
Over the past few years, prison funds have been cut and prisoner rehabilitation is treated as too slow and expensive. Between 2010 and 2015, the prison population in England and Wales remained relatively stable at around 85,000, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). However, during the same period officer numbers were reduced by almost a third, while assaults on staff soared. The total number of full-time staff was cut by more than 10,000 Clarke’s assessments of various prisons throughout the UK over the past few years highlighted high levels of violence, self-harm and suicides. Prisons are embarrassingly under-resourced, ineffective, overcrowded and filthy: with stories of young offenders who had suffered inhumane treatment making news in the UK. Michael Gove as justice secretary addressed this, accepting that the prison service is in crisis, and set out some interesting potential reforms.
As expert witness providers, we are sometimes employed to send experts who can determine whether prisoners have been rehabilitated enough to be returned to society. Psychiatric expert witnesses can be sent in to assess their mental condition and provide a judgement on whether it’s safe for the prisoner to be released. The absence of Michael Gove’s reforms in the Queen’s Speech is disappointing and ill-advised, especially when they could help reform people who can indeed be saved and have another chance at life.