After a morning at Elmley, a core local on the Isle of Sheppey, I was off to Swaleside, a long-term Category B prison, next door. But first there was just time for a fortifying (if rather large) omelette and chips at the Old Mill Café, run by prisoners from Standford Hill open prison, which sits between the other two jails on the site.
The managers said relations between staff & prisoners, based on first-name terms, were ‘excellent’, and praised the jail’s ‘can do’ attitude. The NHS joint-funded ‘SOS team’ of Officers & psychologists, providing an outreach & drop-in service for ‘difficult’ prisoners, was highlighted, as was the specialist PIPE unit. The ‘community hub’ peer support & advice service, monthly prisoner consultative meetings with the Dep and SMs, and trained VR mediators, were all seen as positives. The daily full staff briefing, attended by the No. 1, monthly full staff meeting, and staff-family open days were highlighted too.
The Officers too felt staff-prisoner relations were good, and liked the use of first-names. They also rated the SOS team (‘a great & unique initiative’) and PIPE unit, as well as family visits, and visits in general. Phones in cells ‘make a big difference’, as did the greenery and grounds, while the gym was ‘excellent’ for both prisoners and staff. They valued the daily full staff briefing, and monthly FSMs, and highly appreciated a zero tolerance towards violence, with all incidents reported to the police and the No. 1 contacting staff victims of assault. The DST was rated as having had a significant impact on drugs in the prison.
Prisoners agreed with staff about relations between them and the use of first names. They too rated the SOS team, gym (access and facilities), in-cell phones (‘a god send’), and visits (inc. family days, lifer days etc). Peer support was felt a particular strength: including ‘Insiders’ welcoming new prisoners, and giving initial advice & support on induction; the centrally-located ‘community hub’, offering drop-in advice & guidance; NHS-trained emotional well-being mentors for those with mental health issues; and trained mediators helping prevent & diffuse issues between prisoners. They also highlighted prisoners helping audit the jail against HMIP standards, and value monthly prison consultative meetings with the SMT.