When I was working at Holloway, there were many occasions when I would walk past Pentonville, one of the most legendary prisons on the estate, but I had never actually been inside.
I was keen to see this, the first ‘modern’ London prison, built back in 1842. Although it’s hosted the famous and infamous alike, from Oscar Wilde and John Christie to George Best and George Michael, ‘the Ville’ is now a local.
The Governor highlighted excellent relations and mutual support among staff and a strong collective identity and sense of pride and history in Pentonville. He felt regular celebration events marking special days, like Christmas, Eid, ‘national’ days, and Pentonville’s 175th anniversary helped to foster this. The Governor praised the visibility of managers, especially on the centre at ‘free flow’, which was appreciated by staff and improved safety, the staff mess (‘a real positive’), and open days for staff families, which helped to assuage anxiety about their loved ones’ safety. Other positives included a strong focus on ‘decency and cleanliness’, inc. a Governor-led weekly cleaning competition, and on respect between prisoners and staff. The Prisoner Council met regularly with managers and was effective, and PIDs supported prisoners while helping to take pressure off staff.
The staff expressed pride in the prison and agreed that relations and mutual support between staff were a real strength. They also highlighted their jailcraft skills, which they said were often remarked upon by staff visiting on detached duty and helped to maintain control in difficult situations. They said there was good visible management – ‘especially the Governor’ – and appreciated the presence of managers on the centre at ‘free flow’. The regular celebration days mentioned by the Governor were also valued.
The SOs and CMs again highlighted staff recognition and staff family open days. The managers also highlighted staff attitudes to prisoners and the broad range of prisoner mentors and their links to staff. They also noted an emphasis on safer custody, and said including engaging families in reviews had led to a reduction in self harm and violence. They praised the Chaplaincy for being ‘at the heart of the prison’ and being particularly good with vulnerable prisoners. They also valued the strong collaborative relationships with police and other outside agencies.