The Open University’s Open Justice Prison Partnership, run in conjunction with the St Giles Trust, has been shortlisted for the Most Effective Pro Bono Partnership Award at the annual LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards.

The Awards – which take place on Tuesday 3 December in London – celebrate the best legal pro bono activities by organisations and individuals, and the positive impact they’ve had.

The Open Justice Prison Partnership has seen over 60 OU Law students supporting St Giles’ Peer Advisors across nine UK prisons, by providing targeted legal information and guidance to prison inmates. It is an outstanding example of how a university law school can support and enhance the outreach work of an established civil society organisation.

The project has already had a huge impact on addressing unmet needs within custodial environments. Further programmes are planned in five prisons in England and Wales for Spring 2020 and, subject to funding, the OU Open Justice Centre plans to in the increase the number of prisons included in the project in 2021.

St Giles Trust is a charity which supports severely disadvantaged people, and runs prison and ex-offender projects. Peer Advisors are prisoners trained by the St Giles Trust to guide and advise fellow inmates, and assist education, resettlement and prison staff, for the benefit of the whole prison.

The Open Justice Prison Partnership has been running in several prisons, with each concentrating on a different area of work. Examples include:

  • HMP High Down in Sutton, where the project focused on producing resources to help Peer Advisors to advise other inmates on imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences, licence conditions and the parole process.
  • HMP Send in Ripley, where OU Law students developed a practical, in-depth housing resource pack that included information about current housing legislation, which Peer Advisors can use to support fellow prisoners.
  • HMP Cardiff, where OU Law students helped Peer Advisors in relation family law and contact orders, so they can support other prisoners on how to reconnect with their families on their release.

Hugh McFaul, Senior Lecturer within the OU Law School and Open Justice Centre Director, said: “It is an honour to have been shortlisted in these prestigious Awards. The OU has always played an invaluable role in providing educational opportunities in prisons. We are delighted to be able to build on this foundation to create an innovative partnership that allows OU students to provide much-needed legal information and guidance.”

Maria McNicholl, Senior Development and Training Manager at St Giles Trust, said: “Our partnership with The Open University and the opportunity to be part of its Open Justice programme is of real benefit to us. The programme has had a really positive impact on the Peer Advisors, prison population, prison staff, St Giles and the Law students. The OU students have showed a high level of commitment, putting in a lot of work researching and producing resources. And very high quality and useful resources have been produced that have resulted in more prisoners being able to access a wider range of effective advice and support.”

Sean Harker, one of the OU students who has been taking part, added: “I have learnt far more about prison and prisoners than I ever could just by reading materials.”

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