Having run the independent awards for prison staff (and their probation colleagues) since 1985, the Butler Trust know that in spite of the many challenges facing our prisons, particularly in recent years, there are lots of good things going on in our jails too. We also believe that while it’s important to highlight where things go wrong, it’s important to recognise the good stuff as well, and share it more widely. So we decided I should visit every jail in England & Wales, starting with the 102 ‘closed’ establishments, to find out about the good things in each prison – and write a book about it.
Over a period of 17 months, from December 2017 to April 2019, I travelled more than 17,000 miles, asking over 2000 prisoners, front line staff and managers, in more than 300 separate meetings, one simple question: “What’s good about this jail?”.
I can’t pretend it was an entirely scientific enquiry. For the purposes of this project, for instance, I asked to meet only those prepared and able to engage positively with it. A number of initiatives brought in to improve our prisons, such as the ‘Keywork’ programme and the additional staff recruited to underpin it, were being rolled out during my tour, and some of the prisons, especially later on in the process, were further along in their implementation than others at the time of my visit. And while I spent up to an hour with each group, there are bound to be many positives that did not come up in our discussions, and so are missing from my findings.
These, and no doubt other, shortcomings notwithstanding, I hope the reader will find what I discovered as interesting and informative as I did.
Thank you to all the Prison Governors in the ‘closed’ estate for allowing me into their establishments, and (in spite of all the pressures on their time) for making their staff available to speak to me. Thank you also to the over 2000 managers, Officers and prisoners who, in spite of some wry smiles and raised eyebrows to begin with, embraced the process and shared their observations with me. And thanks too to Andrew Skilton, back in the office, who kept the Butler Trust going so ably while I was off gallivanting around the country.
Director, The Butler Trust