About the submission
In the White Paper, published in December 2021, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) outlined its vision for the prison estate for the next ten years. The White Paper focuses on the expansion of the prison estate, improving safety by tackling violence, and enhancing rehabilitation and resettlement through education, employment, and improved drug treatment.
People in prison and on probation who speak English as a second or additional language (ESL) face a number of language and cultural barriers which can impact their experience of prison and outcomes from rehabilitative interventions and resettlement services. The Bell Foundation submitted evidence to this consultation from ‘Language Barriers in the Criminal Justice System’, an exploratory piece of research resulting in a series of academic, policy, and practice-focused outputs.
Summary of recommendations:
- Recommendation: All Equality Impact Assessments conducted in the implementation of the Prisons Strategy include consideration of language as an important identifying criterion of the protected characteristic of ethnicity.
- Recommendation: Equality Impact Assessments are conducted on all aspects of the prison regime, including activities, interventions, and services delivered by external providers, including consideration of language as an important identifying criterion of the protected characteristic of ethnicity.
- Recommendation: The commissioning or procurement of in-cell technology systems includes a review of opportunities to improve support for speakers of ESL and is subject to an Equality Impact Assessment including consideration of language as an important identifying criteria of the protected characteristic of ethnicity.
- Recommendation: The MOJ’s new, or updated, data system for prisoner data includes structured (retrievable) and mandatory data fields for ‘Speaks ESL’, spoken languages, and written languages.
- Recommendation: HMPPS pilots the use of the ‘Prison ESOL Screening Tool for Speaking and Listening’ in one Prison Region.
- Recommendation: Commissioners ensure that contracted language support providers meet a minimum standard of qualifications and experience: in all interactions with potential consequences, such as legal advice, adjudications, or critical healthcare appointments, interpreters must be highly qualified and experienced, holding a level 6 qualification in Public Service Interpreting and at least 400 hours of relevant experience. For more everyday interactions such as general appointments or engagement with the regime, interpreters should have a level 3 qualification in Community Interpreting.
- Recommendation: HMPPS, and contracted education providers, introduce a qualification in Community Interpreting and an associated peer support scheme to provide prisoners with relevant experience.
- Recommendation: An Equality Impact Assessment of the proposed peer support model includes consideration of language as a key identifying criteria of the protected characteristic of ethnicity, and the recruitment of peer supporters aims to recruit a diverse and representative group of prisoners.
- Recommendation: All employment opportunities such as employability interventions or innovations aimed at connecting serving prisoners with potential employers are subject to Equality Impact Assessments including consideration of language as a key identifying characteristic of ethnicity.
- Recommendation: The proposed Resettlement Passports include an ESL ‘marker’ and the personalised approach to resettlement must include appropriate ESOL education and language support.
- Recommendation: The new Prisoner Education Service includes ESOL as a priority alongside literacy and numeracy, providing ESOL classes at the appropriate proficiency level to all prisoners who speak ESL without delay, regardless of the overall level of demand within the prison.
- Recommendation: HM Prison Service and the Probation Service work together to ensure that in-custody education is better linked with community provision, including community ESOL.
- Recommendation: All operational and prisoner-facing staff in the women’s estate are given training to overcome language barriers and better support speakers of ESL, including using cultural mediation techniques.
- Recommendation: All operational and prisoner-facing staff are provided with training and resources to better support speakers of ESL.
- Recommendation: Recruitment drives aim to recruit a diverse workforce that, as far as possible, represents the languages and cultures of those in the local prison population.