Another welcome return to Durham. I was last here in the summer, visiting Durham prison as part of a tour of male prisons in the north east, and now it’s Low Newton, a closed prison for women and young offenders.
I’m combining this visit with a planning meeting for a forthcoming visit in the New Year by HRH The Princess Royal, the Butler Trust’s Royal Patron. (Two of our 2017-18 Award Winners Karen Laws & Laura Smillie work at Low Newton).
The officers said the prison was safe, with dedicated, committed staff, and good, ‘very supportive’ and ‘caring’ staff-prisoner relations. They praised safer custody (self-harm, once a big issue, is ‘much improved’) and keywork (making ‘a real difference’). They rated specialist support (including 3 counsellors) for victims of abuse and care leavers, the specialist PIPE unit, and the ‘excellent’ Primrose Unit.
The prisoners agreed it was safe, and ‘very strong’ on bullying and work with bullies and victims, and called relations with staff very good, respectful and supportive. Education was rated ‘excellent’ (with high aspirations for the women and ‘great’ teachers), as was the Chaplaincy for its support to ‘everyone’. They praised the ‘Inspire’ cancer group supported by Macmillan, and ‘excellent’ visits (including evenings & weekends) and the ‘brilliant’ NEPACS (who run the visit centre, organise homework clubs, family days, lifer days, and monthly full-day parent-child visits etc). The Resident Consultative Committee (RCC), a prisoner council (chaired and minuted by prisoners!) was ‘very’ active and effective. They also liked monthly meetings with SMT and monthly celebrations of achievements.
The managers described ‘fantastic’ staff-prisoner relations, and praised the level of care and support for women with complex needs. They rated the involvement of families in ACCT meetings for those at risk of self-harm, the ‘fantastic’ group of Listeners, and the range and quality of peer mentors and support workers. Like the women, they praised the RCC and the visits. They also valued the staff’s Colleague Consultative Committee regular meetings with senior managers (including No.1), the monthly staff newsletter (including good news, ‘thank yous’, staff achievements, news, policies, etc), the Team & Employee of Month announced at monthly Full Staff Meetings (prisoners can and do nominate), and ‘thank you’ postcards throughout the jail used by both prisoners and staff to thank staff.