Even for a lad from the Midlands, this is a visit that feels like I’m a very long way north – even Durham is south from here (and that’s miles from home already) – I’m deep into the beautiful borderlands, with Lindisfarne and the Scottish border not too far away.
Meanwhile, the prison itself is clean and there’s plenty of space (it is after all two prisons joined together, so it sprawls over a huge area) – and there are impressively well-kept gardens, too.
The prisoners praised relations with staff, and a Director, widely respected by prisoners, who ‘wants to make a difference’, ‘listens’ and ‘delivers on your hope’. The Prisoner Council was ’very effective’ and management highly responsive to it. They liked the range of peer support mentors, including pre-release residential support workers who help with accommodation, advise on benefits etc. Induction – with ‘excellent’ staff & mentors – was highly rated. In-cell phones, kiosks and keywork all made ‘a huge difference’. Support for families, inc. family visits, was ‘brilliant’. And opportunities to develop, including education & training, and ROTL, were ‘outstanding’.
The staff said relations with prisoners were ‘excellent’ and felt the jail was ‘safe’, with keywork (‘great’) contributing to both. They praised a Governor who was ‘first in and last out’, supported staff and was ‘visible’, ‘approachable’ and ‘consults widely’. The monthly staff recognition scheme and ‘on the spot’ recognitions for good work (with recipients entered in to a prize draw) were ‘great’, as were communications with staff (‘so important’) inc. a well-liked the weekly newsletter, which kept staff informed as well as including praise for good work and contributions from staff. They praised the work of the gardens party and rated the impact of the Enhanced wing for the best behaved prisoners.
Managers added their own praise for the staff and their engagement with prisoners. They too rated the Prison Council, keywork, and phones and kiosks, as well as ‘Resettlement fairs’, family day visits and inviting families to celebration of achievement’ events. Consulting, communicating, and recognising staff (as per staff comments) were ‘key strengths’. They also highlighted staff training & development opportunities, local recruitment, shadowing for new staff, staff counselling & helpline, and family open days – and staff attrition and sickness were ‘very low’.