Downview rerolled as a women’s prison in the early 2000’s but was recently closed for three years for refurbishment, only reopening again in 2016. The last time I was here was for a visit by The Princess Royal – when she landed her helicopter in the grounds and one of the women fell out of a first floor window after reaching out to see what was going on (she was unharmed but muddy, after landing in a flowerbed).
Managers praised staff-prisoner relationships, and relationships among staff of all disciplines, as contributing to a strong multi-disciplinary approach to working with the women, and to the support and management of those with complex needs. They noted a strong focus on progression and preparing prisoners for life after release, and a wide range of quality education and training opportunities, including the Max Spielmann reprographics shop, Clink food production facility, and courses run by London College of Fashion. There were also good ROTL opportunities with local partners, and more than 20 outside agencies working with the prison in support of the women. The Glad Rags shop allowed prisoners to buy clothes and make-up at affordable prices, and those women who had no ‘own clothes’ were able to choose three sets from the shop on reception. The Managers also highlighted a wide range of peer support workers and a WI group as positives.
The Officers also rated staff-prisoner relations, based on mutual respect, and the caring approach and listening skills of staff. They agreed with managers about training opportunities and also highlighted cookery courses, the beauty salon and access to OU. They rated the regular, 5-hour, family days, when staff wear their own clothes, and highlighted mental health support. Relations among staff were very strong, with regular social events out of work. The staff mess was a positive.
The prisoners described staff as ‘brilliant’, praising their caring and supportive approach, and relations between prisoners and staff were rated ‘excellent’. Education was highly rated, including access to distance learning courses, as was vocational training, with the Max Spielmann, Clink and London College of Fashion courses, as well as business enterprise, beauty and horticultural courses all highlighted. The library was also singled out for praise (‘it’s fantastic’) for its support for reading, as well as bringing in outside speakers.