My mini tour of three prison visits in South Wales kicked off, suitably, in the heart of the nation’s capital city. (Cardiff prison also boasts a Clink café which was named the 10th Best Restaurant in the 2015 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, no less!)
An early start was offset by some lovely weather – they tell me it’s always sunny in Wales – and a notably cheerful welcome on the gate. Three new wings were added to the three early Victorian wings in 1996 as part of a major refurbishment. Over twenty years later, my initial impression was of a clean prison, with a strong sense of family among those working there. One initiative of particular note was the HDC (Home Detention Curfew) peer mentor scheme, set up and run by prisoners, which had helped to dramatically improve the proportion of eligible prisoners getting out on HDC at the end of their sentence.
The officers described a real ‘sense of camaraderie’ at Cardiff, and said they were ‘like a family here’. They called staff-prisoner relationships ‘excellent’ – and said they were better than other jails they had worked in. They added that Cardiff was much safer than comparable prisons.
The prisoners described relationships with staff as good. They praised the range of peer mentors in the jail. They particularly rated the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) mentor scheme, which was set up and run by prisoners to help improve access to HDC; this involved re-designing application forms and helping prisoners to complete their submissions, which they said had made ‘a real difference’. They also praised the level of support for veterans in the prison. They felt there was a good range of training opportunities too, including the Railtrack course (which guarantees prisoners an interview on release), and they also valued the rapid allocation to suitable work and training opportunities.
Managers (including Governor)
Like the officers, the managers and Governor said that staff-prisoner relationships were particularly good at Cardiff, and they also talked about a strong ‘family’ environment. There is a ‘buddy’ scheme for POELTs, which they felt helped support new staff in the early stages of their career, as well as gym access and courses open to both staff and their families. They also highlighted the range of vocational training, including the Railtrack programme, and noted their strong links with local employers. As with the prisoners, they valued the activities hub which ensured fast allocation to appropriate activities. The HDC scheme also got a special mention, along with the support available for veterans. The prison’s work on safer custody and suicide prevention work was particularly valued, and the managers said there were low levels of serious self-harm and violence compared to similar establishments elsewhere.