Expert backs independent monitors to replace prison visiting committees

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CONTROVERSIAL plans to scrap prison visiting committees have been backed in a new report.

Professor Andrew Coyle has recommended replacing them with voluntary independent prison monitors.

There was widespread concern when it was suggested in 2011 that the committees, which have inspected prisons since the 19th century, be replaced by an advocacy service run by a government department.

Prof Coyle said they should be replaced by a monitoring system, but that should be independent of government.

“However, much of the work which they [committees] have done until now will form the basis of a new locally-based system of independent prison monitoring,” his report said.

“It is to be hoped that a number of current members of visiting committees will offer themselves for appointment as independent prison monitors.”

The Scottish Government will review Prof Coyle’s recommendations before making a final decision.

Justice secretary Kenny Mac­Askill said: “I would like to thank Professor Coyle for carrying out this review, which support’s the Scottish Government’s position to abolish prison visiting committees, while helpfully recommending how independent monitoring should be carried out in the future.”

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “The government’s original plans to scrap prison visiting committees without introducing a new monitoring service were deeply flawed. It is a relief that they have now backtracked.”