The recent disturbances at HMP Oakwood have hit the front pages of the newspapers and made the evening news. It is I fear a sign of worse to come.

Oakwood is a relatively new G4S-run prison. Yes, all new establishments have teething problems, but I sense this is a sign of a deeper underlying issue that will surface more and more over the coming months.

Prisoners are not happy. The prison regime relies on prisoners to respect the system and comply with it. If prisoners feel let down by staff, lacking in hope or indeed in constructive activity, that fine balance can be disrupted. Even more importantly, are prisoners who are required to access certain courses to reduce their risk so they can apply for release and go home. But what happens when they can’t do that?

Recent changes to the provision of legal aid for prisoners (which, despite Government spin, is a relatively small amount compared to the entire legal aid budget at some £20million per year) will hit prisoners hard. It will also hit prisons hard by increasing staff workloads. No longer will staff be able to say to a prisoner that they should contact their solicitor to sort a matter out for them, as that provision will simply not be there. Staff will have to address more complaints, make more enquiries with the Recall section, the Parole Board, Probation officers, Offender Supervisors and psychologists. Prisoners will be kept in conditions of higher security than they really need, why, because Governors know that solicitors will not be on their case to appeal decisions and they can get away with it (which incidentally costs the system a lot more than the “projected” £4million saving from getting rid of solicitors help). Some prisoners when faced with a no-win situation, when they cant progress or seek the help that they need, will rebel against the system and incidents much worse than Oakwood’s recent disturbance will become more common in my view.

Blog post by Carl Miles, solicitor at our Trafford office and prison law specialist. He can be contacted on 0161 9058530.