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Visit Review Boards -- Kent Institution 1994-8

In March, 1994, I began observing the visit review board at Kent Institution to see how the board makes its decisions, and whether it did so in accordance with the duty to act fairly and consistent with the legal criteria set out in the legislation. The visit review board was chaired by unit manager Sarah Shadbolt. Other members of the board were Dave Dick, the IPSO, the Social and Cultural Development Officer and two correctional officers who were in charge of the visiting and correspondence (V&C) area. The basic procedure was that as each case was reviewed the IPSO and the V & C staff would consult their files regarding the particular prisoner. A typical agenda consisted of applications from new visitors to visit a prisoner, reviews of a prisoner's visiting status, determinations on whether a prisoner or his visitor should be placed on screened visits, and applications for private family visits (PFVs).

Between 1994-8, I attended over twenty visit review boards, chaired by six different people. The shifting composition of the chairperson, reflecting changes in unit managers, made little difference to the overall shape of decision-making. Cases were discussed without a clear legal frame of reference, the file review, particularly of the IPSO files, was often conducted at the hearing itself, with the material being read for the first time and therefore without the benefit of a full evaluation and assessment of the file. Most of the discussion took place in the absence of the prisoner and when they were present the prisoners' statements seemed to make little difference to the outcome of the case.

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Open Visiting Area, Kent Institution