After the weekend’s snow, the trip to Lowdham Grange, perhaps predictably, proved less straightforward than it should, but it was worth the trip.
We began our visit in the Media centre where we were reunited with former Butler Trust winner, Stuart Hall, and met a group of prisoners. Then it was on to lunch with the SMT, then to a full staff meeting to present a Butler Trust Certificate on Lorna Coke from the Chaplaincy, and finally to meet a group of front-line staff. The Director unfortunately couldn’t be there on the day, but we were able to speak on the phone shortly afterwards.
Everyone we spoke to agreed that prisoner consultation, engagement and support, as well as support for families and maintaining family links, were particular strengths, and the prison’s Inside TV station, in-cell telephone system and video-based Storybook Dads scheme stood out in particular.
Prisoners highly rated support for families, including: family days (‘excellent’); in-cell phones; information videos for family members showing life inside the prison; Storybook Dads, which allows prisoners to make films of themselves reading bedtime stories for their children; and a supportive attitude if families are delayed on long journeys. The prisoner-led Inside TV, which helps keep prisoners informed, the 24-hour peer advice line (using the in-cell phones), and the wide range of peer support workers, including the buddy support system for those with social care needs, were also praised, as was a comprehensive approach to prisoner representation and consultation, and education. The on-wing kiosk system, known here as ‘ATMs’, allowing prisoners to order canteen and budget for themselves, submit applications and book visits, as appointments, was also highlighted.
Staff also highlighted: Inside TV; in-cell phones; and support for family ties, including Storybook Dads. They too rated the prisoner advice line, and felt that the ATMs helped prisoners to take more responsibility for themselves, as well as reducing the demands on staff and helping to reduce conflict by ensuring an electronic paper-trail for applications etc. Staff also appreciated recent team-building initiatives introduced by the Director.
The Director and his colleagues rated many of the same things as both front line staff and prisoners, including: the prisoner advice line and buddy scheme, Inside TV, in-cell phones, and the ATMs; Storybook Dads and other family support initiatives, including a recently created post for a full time family link worker; educational opportunities for prisoners, including access to Open University courses; and prisoner representation and consultation. They also highlighted staff recognition, access to confidential counselling for staff, and the prison’s mentoring scheme for new staff.