Judges go directly to jail in rehabilitation drive

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The Independent Online

Twelve senior Crown Court judges began the first part of a national penal programme on Friday when they interviewed inmates at Wandsworth prison about their experience of serving a custodial sentence. The programme is intended to help the rehabilitation of offenders.

Twelve senior Crown Court judges began the first part of a national penal programme on Friday when they interviewed inmates at Wandsworth prison about their experience of serving a custodial sentence. The programme is intended to help the rehabilitation of offenders.

The prison visits, which have the blessing of the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor, will prepare judges for new rehabilitation hearings being planned by the Government, which are designed to be held shortly before the prisoner is released into the community.

In Friday's face-to-face meetings, the judges questioned a number of prisoners who were serving a variety of sentences. They asked them about the effects of custody and their experience of rehabilitation services.

Lord Justice Kay, chairman of the Criminal Justice Consultative Committee, a driving force behind the initiative, said that the time had come for judges to be more involved in the rehabilitation process, to prepare themselves for the rehabilitation hearings being proposed by the Government.

The judge said: "The view, not so long ago, was that the judge's role ends after sentence and it's up to others to deal with rehabilitation." But he said it was now important that the judges met prisoners inside prison so they could assess for themselves the impact of the sentence on the prisoner.

He added: "It is also important that you have a databank [of prisoner's experiences of sentences] to draw upon so that the next time you know whether that sentence is a good idea."

As part of the review of the sentencing process, a Home Office report has recommended that special rehabilitation hearings should be conducted by judges who can then set out the terms upon which the offender should be released.

Lord Justice Kay said: "If you go down that road, then the more judges know about the custody setting the better."

Until now, judges' visits to prisons have been arranged without their names being disclosed. They on taken on "goldfish bowl" tours of the institution. Under the new scheme, which is now expected to be adopted across the country, the judges meet the prisoners for question-and- answer sessions.

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, has said that a judge's involvement in a case should not end upon the sentence being passed.

This week, he said that more needed to be done to help offenders inside prisons so that they did not return to a life of crime. Presenting the annual Kalisher Lecture at the Old Bailey, he said: "What is essential is that there have to be the arrangements in place to enable a sentence to challenge offending behaviour.

"The unfortunate figures are that, without that assistance, nearly two-thirds of prisoners lacked the basic skills needed for more than 90 per cent of job opportunities. The education or training must be able to be continued both in custody and in the community."

Trish Smith, the education manager at Wandsworth prison, said that the judiciary needed to be more involved in the rehabilitation of offenders. She said that she hoped the scheme, which had been organised by the Forum on Prisoner Education, would allow judges to make education a central part of the rehabilitation sentence.

"There are plenty of judges who believe that their job ends at the end of sentence. I think that they should be much more involved after sentence," she said.