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Lay Involvement in Prison Administration - The British Board of Visitors

NCJ Number
University of Toronto Law Journal Volume: 27 Issue: 1 Dated: (1977) Pages: 105-118
G Zellick
Date Published
The British Board of Visitors, a formal mechanism for ensuring the proper administration of prisons, has been used in England since the Prison Act of 1898, and serves to both supervise and discipline inmates and prison operations.
Visiting boards, composed of two lay magistrates together with people drawn from the community, have been appointed by the Home Secretary both under the Prison Act of 1898 and the Court Act of 1971. Those involved in the supervisory and welfare functions of the board must meet at the prison at least eight times a year to satisfy themselves as to the state of the prison premises, the administration of the prison, and the treatment of the prisoners, reporting any problems to the Home Secretary. The board also hears prisoner complaints, investigates matters relating to the prisons, and authorizes the segregation of prisoners if the duration of the separation will last longer than 24 hours. The board must award penalties for the more serious discipline violations and can remit or mitigate a disciplinary award, subject to directions laid down by the Home Secretary. Boards are composed of at least two justices of the peace, include anywhere from 10 to 20 members, who are not paid (although reimbursed for lost earnings), and receive printed material from the Home Office instead of formal training. As governors' powers were increased in June 1974, the board's case proportion may decrease slightly. Bodies similar to the English boards are to be found in Scandanavia and the Netherlands, as well as in former colonies with penal systems modeled after Britain's. While critics claim that inmates perceive the boards as too closely identified with the prison management, and that the range of people appointed to the boards should be enlarged, the boards have been recommended for retention in Britain, with improvements hailed by the critics. Overall, these boards are intended as one reform device and not as substitutes for other institutional checks on abuses, mismanagement, or maladministration in prisons. Supplied are 69 footnotes.