A 222-mile round trip takes me back to South West to visit HMP Ashfield, in the village of Pucklechurch, east of Bristol: it makes for a wonderful drive, especially in high summer, and the prison’s green spaces and planting are very pleasant.
Now managed by Serco, it’s one of many prisons built on the site of a former Second World War Royal Air Force base, and it has a claim in having once briefly incarcerated a prisoner who would go on to remarkable things: Stephen Fry.
The prisoners described a safe jail with good staff-prisoner relations. They rated the range of reps & mentors and the ‘excellent’ consultation, via an elected Prisoner Council, alongside regular meetings with Residential governors and relevant managers, a monthly SMT meeting, and regular forum meetings between reps and managers across a range of issues (e.g. race, faith, disability, etc). Education was ‘excellent’ and the library and gym ‘brilliant’. They praised the food, green spaces, cell fittings (including showers), quarterly family visits, and in-cell phones and the kiosks.
The staff thought the prison safe, and praised a ‘very’ visible management, ‘excellent’ staff-prisoner relations (e.g. on first name terms), and a culture of mutual respect. They liked the full staff briefings each morning, a fortnightly ‘shut down’ for a full staff meeting and training, and the staff counselling service. The staff mess was ‘great’ and ‘well used’, and they also enjoyed good staff access to the gym. Regarding prisoners, they valued strong engagement and consultation, phones & kiosks, a good physical environment, the gym and sports facilities, as well as their ‘excellent’ food (‘better than elsewhere’). Education & Training, alongside support to aid self-employment, was ‘excellent’.
The Director and Deputy described a ‘calm’ and ‘safe’ prison, where a culture of decency and respect ‘permeates everything’, including relations at all levels among staff and with prisoners. They said the SMT was ‘visible’ and had an ‘open door’ policy. They highlighted consultation, including forums, etc, extending to both staff and prisoners. As elsewhere, prisoner phones & kiosks were highly valued. They rated Ashfield’s cleanliness and noted cell carpeting, for both the decency agenda and in helping reduce noise. They said there was full prisoner employment, with ‘very good’ Education & Training. The staff mess also won praise.