For my visit to Forest Bank I stayed overnight in Manchester, in the baroque 1903 Midland Hotel, famous, among other things, for once refusing entry to The Beatles for being ‘inappropriately dressed’. I stayed here last while working with the public sector bid team to run HMP Manchester after it was largely rebuilt following the 1990 Strangeways riot. Since then Manchester has changed remarkably (sadly the food at the hotel has changed too, and not for the better).
Forest Bank is a notably modern contrast to the redbrick of both HMP Manchester, and The Midland. Opened in 2000, it’s a private prison, operated by Sodexo Justice Services, with a capacity of just under 1500.
Senior managers said ‘a strong culture’ of respect and rehabilitation forged a staff-prisoner rapport that ‘visitors often commented on’. They highlighted staff communication (including weekly manager newsletters cascaded via ‘huddle’ team briefings; quarterly full staff meetings; and optional monthly ‘People First’ Director-led lunch meetings), and a ‘bright ideas’ scheme. Staff recognition (including peer-voted ‘Star’ & ‘Team’ of the Month, and ‘on the spot’ thank you cards used by staff & prisoners entered in prize draws) was emphasised, as were focus groups and surveys of prisoners & families. ‘Excellent’ education & training had a ‘strong’ vocational focus (e.g. employer links and qualifications ‘attached to all jobs’). They rated the range of OBPs, the prison’s cleanliness and furnishings etc, and phones & kiosks (noting their usual, widely recognised, benefits). They also emphasised family involvement, with family members invited to achievement celebrations and to ACCTs, and involved in violence action plans and challenging prisoner reviews; as well as the multi-disciplinary action plans for the 10 most challenging prisoners, reviewed weekly. They had good words for the gym and its links to local sports teams, and for the Prison Council, wing reps, and their monthly meetings with Head of Residence.
The prisoners agreed with managers about the notable staff-prisoner rapport, prisoner consultation, phones & kiosks, OBPs (and ‘rehabilitation support generally’), and on family support and the ‘very good’ visits, including family days and creche. The drug services and recovery wing were ‘fantastic’ and ‘brilliant’.
The officers praised the No. 1 as ‘very’ visible and approachable, and also valued staff communication and recognition (including thank you cards), the ‘good quality’ and ‘wide range’ of OBPs, education & vocational training, and the ‘excellent’ drug services and wing. They liked the new approach to ‘strengths based’ recruitment, which they felt had led to better and ‘more resilient’ staff coming on board.