Just before I went in to Oakwood, I learned, sadly, that my longstanding friend, and former colleague, Kathy Baker (known to many in criminal justice as Kathy Biggar) – an inspiration and driving force behind the Listener programme – had died in the night.
She would, I think, have been quietly pleased to learn about the wide range of prisoner engagement and consultation I was about to hear about: the logical extension of the remarkable work she started in 1991 with the very first Listener at Swansea Prison…
The SMT said staff-prisoner relations were good and noted low staff sickness. They praised as ‘exceptional’ prisoner reps and consultation in much of the jail’s operations & management (including SMT & departmental meetings). They valued the Prisoner Council and the many mentors and reps, including Listeners and ‘Lift’ mentors for VPs, and reps for: violence reduction, veterans, diversity, older prisoners, mental health, induction & reception, and legal advice & support (helping with ROTL, HDC, etc.) They noted high levels of activities and employment, including a supported living unit with prisoner carers trained to NVQ 3. They said violence levels were low, and pointed to their gang strategy, very low ACCTs, and all items being scanned with a Rapiscan and all mail photocopied for Spice. They liked prisoners managing kit to cut costs, and also valued kiosks and in-cell phones.
Staff said the Director was ‘excellent’ – visible, approachable, ‘a listener’ to all – and someone who communicated, consulted, and let them innovate. They praised support and mentoring for all staff, and rated prisoner engagement and interventions (which they said helped staff). They said staff-prisoner relations were good, the jail ‘safe’, and self-harm levels low. They, too, rated the scanning and photocopying, as well as the kiosks and in-cell phones. They added praise for prisoner-supported specialist units for basic and non-engaging prisoners and the drug recovery unit. They also highlighted family support including ‘excellent’ visit facilities, Kids’ & Homework Clubs, a Scout troop, family days and extended visits.
The prisoners called the jail ‘safe’, staff-prisoner relationships excellent, and the Director ‘extraordinary’. They praised prisoner engagement and consultation as well as peer and staff mentoring and support. They also rated the gang strategy, the legal advice & support reps, and the specialist units which were tailored to specific groups including lifers or long termers, prisoners on basic, and non-engagers.