People in Prison Deserve Access to Justice Too
The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s decision last December to curtail access to legal aid for prisoners – ahem – People in Prison – is an affront to civilised values. Being a captive at the mercy of the state is a precarious place to be. You might say, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” You might say, “Why should we care about people who have committed crimes when there are more deserving cases for our help like pensioners and orphans?” You might say, “Why should I care, they’re all scum anyway.”
The more sensible among us however might say, “What if it was me? What if, heaven forbid, I found myself caught up in the criminal justice system and sentenced to a term of imprisonment? What if I found myslf isolated, without friends or funds and the system let me down in some way - what if I was a mother threatened with being separated from my baby? What if I was disabled and I wasn’t getting any help to manage prison life, or the special help I would need for resettlement? What if I was a long term prisoner and the system was failing to ensure that I could do what I had to do to reduce the risk of me reoffending? What if I believed I was being discriminated against by a prison officer? A prison Governor? A psychologist? What if when I was at my most vulnerable I was abused?
“Who would help me if I didn’t have the option to access legal redress?”
Thankfully there are people in this world who do care about maintaining high civilised values and respect for Human Rights.
The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners Advice Service went to the High Court to challenge the Justice Secretary on this issue on 6 March 2014. Why?
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League said: “Our legal team represents children and young people in prison. The removal of legal aid to help these children make fresh starts is contrary to the whole aim of the youth justice system which is to prevent reoffending. These cuts will not result in savings for the taxpayer. On the contrary, they will result in increased costs as children remain in prison for longer than is necessary for want of a safe home to go to.”
Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor at the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “PAS provides legal advice to all adult prisoners in England and Wales. We run an advice line and receive thousands of letters and telephone calls from prisoners each year. PAS also represents prisoners by taking on legal cases where appropriate. The legal aid cuts to prison law have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons and the Parole Board have all expressed grave concern at legal aid being cut for prisoners. These cuts are further isolating an already very marginalised sector of our society.”
If you ever do find yourself in prison and in need of help – you too might be thankful that organisations like this exist. Fingers crossed they get a result.