One of the country’s leading prisons lawyers has said that the Government’s proposals, outlined in the Queen’s speech today, to give a very limited number of Prison Governors greater autonomy over their prisons represents a missed opportunity to address the real problems facing our prison system and could make the existing problems even worse.

Sean Humber, head of prison law at Leigh Day, who has acted in a series of successful claims on behalf of disabled and elderly prisoners, stated the real reason prisons are in crisis is that more people have received longer sentences while, at the same time, the Government has slashed prison budgets and greatly reduced the number of front line prison staff.

Mr Humber said: “Unsurprisingly sending more people to prison while reducing prison funding and the number of front line prison officers has resulted in over-crowded and under-staffed prisons which have become less safe for prisoners and prison staff alike, with the numbers of deaths in custody, assaults and incidents of self-harm all rising.

“Any proposals that ignore these fundamental issues, are at best, likely to be of limited significance and, at worst, may be seen as an eye-catching stunt designed to distract from the real problems.

“We act in numerous cases where the prison system has unlawfully failed to provide even the most basic care to elderly or disabled prisoners. As a result, many are left in entirely inappropriate locations leading a lonely and isolated existence and unable to participate in the most basic aspects of prison life.

“Usually, in these cases, the particular prison has failed to comply with even the minimum requirements set out in national prison policies.

“There is also a concern that proposals to give Prison Governors’ “unprecedented freedom” to run their own prisons may actually lead to even more variable standards and less cooperation between prisons, with even less respect for the minimum requirements set out in national prison guidance, and less willingness to ensure that prisoners are moved to the most appropriate prisons for their care and rehabilitation.”