So today’s the day – the final day of a 17-month odyssey around the 102 closed prisons of England & Wales. And I woke up in my B&B on the Isle of Portland to clear blue skies and glorious sunshine. My very last visit would be to Portland, but first off was The Verne, a Cat C prison which reopened in 2018 after a number of years as an IRC.
The prisoners said the staff were ‘great’, ‘a different breed’, and ‘they really care’; the prison was ‘very safe’, due to staff de-escalation skills, a zero tolerance towards violence, and CCTV; self-harm prevention was a strength, too. They valued a very open regime (‘more Cat D than Cat C’), the gardens, cleanliness & quiet, as well as ‘the basics, like curtains in cells’. Fortnightly community meetings with SMT were highlighted, along with a wide range of reps and mentors, inc. Insiders in a ‘clean, bright & friendly’ reception which sets the tone for new arrivals. The gym and food (‘really good’) were rated too.
The Officers felt they had an excellent rapport with prisoners, and said ‘we care’ and ‘treat them like humans’. They agreed the jail was very safe for both staff & prisoners and noted very low levels of self harm. They rated the ‘semi-open’ regime in which prisoners were out all day and not locked in their cells at night. The gardens, greenery, cleanliness and quiet were seen as a benefit for all. Support for new Officers from colleagues, a period of shadowing, and full-time mentors were all rated highly, and a morning briefing for all unified staff was valued, too.
Managers felt staff-prisoner relations were ‘excellent’, as was the jailcraft and commitment of staff, ‘who really care’. They said the jail was very safe, with very low levels of violence and drug use. Cleanliness and tidiness, for which ‘prisoners take ownership’, were highlighted, along with the relatively open regime and decent living conditions, while communal eating was felt to contribute to a sense of community among the men. Food, the Chaplaincy, and the gym – inc. a range of activities for staff and older prisoners – were all rated. They also highlighted: wing reps and bi-monthly community meetings with SMs; equalities reps covering each protected characteristic, working closely with identified SM leads; and a range of ‘very active’ peer mentors, inc. Insiders, buddies & Listeners.