After speaking to more than 2,000 prisoners, frontline staff and managers across the ‘closed’ estate, three things became clear: there really were good things in every jail; there was widespread optimism that, after a very difficult few years, things were beginning to improve again; and at the heart of everything that’s good in our jails are the Prison Officers.
While violence in prisons had increased substantially in the five years prior to my tour, most of the managers, staff and prisoners I spoke to felt that things were beginning to improve, a feeling that seemed to grow stronger over the period. In many cases, especially later in my tour, all three groups described their jail as ‘safe’, and most of the prisoners, in most of the prisons, said it was possible to remain safe provided ‘you stay away from trouble’.
It was generally agreed that the extra staff being brought in during my tour to underpin the new Keywork arrangements had had a significant impact on safety.
Keywork itself, which was being rolled out nationally, was described as a ‘game changer’ with regard to safety: helping to improve relationships between prisoners and staff; helping staff to better manage more challenging prisoners, support those at risk, and deal with some of the challenges and frustrations prisoners experience before they develop in to more serious issues; and enabling staff to get better intelligence about potential problems and threats.
In-cell phones, in those prisons which had them, were also felt to have made a significant difference here – with queuing for the phone, and having to ‘bang up’ before being able to make a call, common triggers for conflict in those prisons that did not have them.
In many of the prisons, the introduction of prisoner Violence Reduction (VR) ‘reps’ was also singled out. In some cases their roles included mediating, on a confidential basis, between prisoners e.g. at Elmley, Rochester, Bronzefield and Highpoint, as well as Littlehey, where mediators worked on wings other than their own, to avoid becoming embroiled in other peoples’ disputes, and Garth, where they received Level 2 training in their role.
With debt a common cause of victimisation, the men at Humber highlighted a peer-led debt avoidance workshop, while Ranby had an ‘essentials’ shop on reception so men were able to manage to their first canteen without needing to borrow from anyone else, and Wayland’s on-wing prescribing was seen as helping to reduce the problems of prisoners being bullied for their medications on their way back from healthcare.
Gangs were another factor in a number of prisons, and Thameside and Wormwood Scrubs, among others, had brought in outside agencies to help them deal with the problem, while managers at Oakwood noted the positive impact of their gang strategy.
Behaviour management interventions focused on challenging prisoners, and those at risk of violence, were highlighted as another positive in a number of jails (see under ‘behaviour management’ in ‘regarding prisoners’ for more details).
Some other initiatives noted included: allocating CMs to each wing at Nottingham and Wandsworth; managers on the route during movements at Nottingham and Pentonville; SOs on the landings at unlock at Wandsworth; an amnesty for weapons (as well as drugs and phones) at Channings Wood; allowing prisoners to have razors only while they’re shaving at Belmarsh and Bedford; and a weekly multidisciplinary Safety, Order & Control (SOC) meeting at Lincoln. Staff at Wayland and Portland noted the positive impact of CCTV, and those at Wealstun, one of four pilot sites for its roll-out nationally, felt issuing them with PAVA (synthetic pepper spray) had enhanced staff confidence and safety.
Drugs, in particular new psychoactive substances (NPS) like Spice, have had a major adverse effect on safety, while positive relationships between staff and prisoners have the opposite effect. As with safety itself, I found signs of improvement in both areas – as set out below.
Drugs, especially Spice, were seen to be a major issue in many of the prisons I visited – with impacts on the health of ‘users’ themselves, and on the safety of those around them. Here too, however, there was a general feeling that progress was being made.
Steps taken to reduce supply varied across the estate; however, photocopying of all mail, scanning possessions brought in to the jail, body scanners and enhanced searching of staff, visitors and new receptions, dedicated search teams, ‘passive’ (sniffer) dogs, and random checks on staff and support for staff under threat (at Belmarsh) were all among initiatives felt to have had a significant impact – while Whitemoor had set up a joint staff-prisoner Spice Action Committee, and Channings Wood’s ‘amnesty’ on drugs (as well as weapons and phones) was highlighted by managers there.
Substance misuse services, for those with drug problems, are common across the estate, and were singled out in a number of establishments including Nottingham, Altcourse, Portland, and Durham, as were drug recovery wings, including at Buckley Hall, Hull, Eastwood Park and Lindholme, while Wymott had a four-week ‘Robust Recovery’ programme for prolific Spice users.
Relationships between staff and prisoners were rated positively in most prisons, and most of the people I spoke to felt relationships were improving even where they still felt there was some way to go.
The use of first name terms, for both prisoners and staff, was common and widely seen as a positive (e.g. at Buckley Hall, Guys Marsh, Long Lartin and Swaleside), while in a number of jails, including Berwyn, Bronzefield, Bure, Stafford and Warren Hill, prisoners were referred to as ‘residents’, something which most, though not all, also valued.
As with safety, Keywork was consistently noted as a major factor in improving relationships, as were the extra staff per se – by enabling greater consistency of staffing on the wings, and giving staff more time to spend with prisoners.
In those jails that had them, touch-screen ‘Kiosk’ facilities on the wings, enabling prisoners to carry out many routine ‘domestic’ tasks for themselves, like submitting applications and ordering canteen (see under ‘regarding prisoners – domestics’) were commonly highlighted as another factor in improving relationships, by taking pressure off staff, and reducing prisoners’ reliance on already-busy officers to get things done.
A number of prisons held joint activities for both prisoners and staff, including: sporting events at Wymott, Deerbolt, Usk and Moorland; charity events at Channings Wood, Buckley Hall, Coldingley, Lancaster Farms and Stocken; well-being events and ‘community meals’ at Coldingley; ‘quiz and curry’ nights at Ranby; and joint ‘celebration of success events’ including at Bure, Portland and Ranby; among many others – while the ‘narrowing the gap’ programme at Guys Marsh saw prisoners taking a number of initiatives to bring staff and prisoners together.
Although managers, staff and prisoners all gave positive ratings to relationships in the largest prison in the estate (Oakwood), smaller prisons, and smaller wings in prisons, were often seen as having an advantage here, facilitating consistency of contact and making it easier for prisoners and staff to get to know one another.
While prisons are, by design, austere places, and far from the ‘holiday camps’ of tabloid myth, the impact of the conditions in which prisoners live, and staff work, was commonly highlighted
I heard of a number of initiatives to improve cleanliness and decency, including: wastebins in cells at Manchester, and around the grounds at Highpoint; inter-wing competitions on cleanliness and decency at Aylesbury and Pentonville; regular inspections by managers (in a number of jails); a prisoner-led ‘decency audit’ at Stocken; and parties of prisoners and staff carrying out minor repairs and maintenance, including at Brinsford, Highpoint, Stafford, and the award-winning ‘Q Branch’ at Leeds.
Noise, including loud music and shouting between cells, is a common bugbear among prisoners, especially at night. However, some jails were notably quieter than others (e.g. Highpoint, Wakefield, Elmley and the Isle of Wight – where managers reported a zero tolerance approach to noise), and this was seen as a positive for both prisoners and staff – with a prisoner in one jail telling me he had his first full night’s sleep in two years when he arrived there, and both prisoners and staff saying that a lack of noise created a greater sense of safety and control too.
Single cells, and showers in cells, where applicable, were widely appreciated by prisoners, while proper curtains on the windows were noted at Belmarsh and The Verne, as well as carpets in cells at Ashfield, with the latter seen as also helping to reduce noise.
On the environment:
“It’s clean and green and that makes all the difference”
“I like the quiet here – I got my first good night’s sleep in two years”
“The greenery and the grounds are good for everyone”
The psychological benefits, for both prisoners and staff, of green space and gardens, as well as wildlife in the grounds (including the duck ponds at Styal, Send and Woodhill, and the animal sanctuary at Foston Hall), were widely noted; while hanging baskets at Bristol, fish tanks and planters on the wings at Long Lartin, and colour and artwork on the walls at Stocken, were among other initiatives aimed at improving the working and living environment, and prisoners at Stocken liked having ‘buskers’ on the route to work, which ‘help brighten our day’.
Management & leadership
Staff across the estate told me about the pivotal importance of the leadership provided by managers in general, and Governors in particular.
Some of the qualities staff valued in their Governors were: ‘visibility’ (frequently being seen around the establishment); ‘mucking in’ (helping out at unlock, for example); listening to staff, giving praise where it’s due, and thanking them for a job well done; supporting staff (including following up anyone who’s been assaulted and visiting them if they’ve been hospitalised, and sending flowers after a bereavement); and personal touches like knowing staff members’ names and sending them personalised Xmas and birthday cards. They valued similar qualities in other managers too, and highly rated ‘back to the floor’ days at Aylesbury and High Down.
Relationships with colleagues
Throughout my travels I was told about the strength of relationships among staff, and among Officers (both new and more experienced) in particular – and activities like Xmas events and summer BBQs, as well as more formal team building initiatives (e.g. at Exeter, Swansea, Humber and Lowdham Grange), were mentioned as positives in this regard.
Communication & consultation
Staff on Senior Management:
“One of the best Governors I’ve had in thirty years – he’ll muck in and he gets out and about, too”
“She regularly walks the prison and is good at making you feel valued”
“He’s visible, supportive – he knows everyone’s names – and encourages innovation”
“He’s quick to praise and approachable”
“He’s good at explaining things and gives clear direction”
“She’s not risk averse, and is inspirational”
“He’s a straight talker who follows through”
The importance of effective communications and consultation with staff was stressed by many of the Officers I spoke to – with Northumberland, Hindley, Forest Bank, Risley and Send among those receiving positive reports from staff in this regard, and Brinsford having a dedicated communications manager.
Monthly full staff meetings, fronted by the Governor, were widely appreciated. Regular newsletters were valued too, especially where they were in hardcopy (rather than digital) and when they included ‘thank you’s and lighter stories, alongside news and briefings – with those at Leicester, Northumberland, Bristol and Humber among examples rated by staff.
Morning briefings for operational staff were also highly valued, and the Governor-led, prison-wide ‘breakfast briefings’ at Swansea, Birmingham, Bristol and Winchester, with coffee and snacks provided, were particularly popular – weekly team meetings (e.g. at Altcourse, Forest Bank and Peterborough) were valued too.
A number of prisons held regular staff surveys and forums (e.g. Bronzefield, Lincoln and Moorland). Some had formal consultative committees for staff – including a ‘people committee’ at Belmarsh, ‘people first’ committee at Forest Bank, and staff engagement committee at Wakefield – while staff ‘ideas’ schemes were noted at Forest Bank and (open to prisoners too) at Onley.
Staff also valued the less formal communication and consultation opportunities provided by ‘visible’ managers who regularly tour the jail, while a number of prisons (including Hindley, Lindholme, Dovegate, Usk and Onley) held a monthly ‘breakfast (or lunch) with the Governor’.
Staff in many of the prisons I visited told me how important it was to feel their efforts were valued by their managers – from the No. 1 down.
Most prisons had some form of staff award scheme – in some cases, such as Erlestoke, Warren Hill and Portland, including nominations from prisoners, and the ‘Amends People Awards’ at Highpoint covering both prisoners and staff – and these were generally appreciated, provided Officers felt their efforts were as well recognised as those of their non-operational colleagues. Schemes involving more instant recognition from managers for a job well done, including ‘on the spot’ awards at Lancaster Farms, Woodhill, Northumberland and Forest Bank, and the similar ‘caught doing good’ initiative at Berwyn, were generally well received too, especially those where recipients were then entered in to a prize draw.
One Officer told me ‘a simple thank you means the world’, a sentiment echoed by many of her colleagues. A ‘shoutouts’ board at Bullingdon, and ‘thank you’ pads and postcards at Durham and Low Newton, respectively, used by colleagues, managers and prisoners to thank a member of staff for something, were highlighted among many initiatives – and staff valued Governors and line managers who regularly gave thanks and praise, including in staff meetings and newsletters, as well as on a less formal, more ad hoc basis.
Support & well-being
Staff on Staff:
“We’re like a big family in here and there’s a real passion for what we do here”
“We’re very tight, we’re a good team”
“We’re more of a community, and to be honest, I think we’re second to none”
“We’re all proud of what we do as well as our ‘can do’ attitude”
“There’s a family atmosphere here. It’s the kind of camaraderie that contributes to us being resilient, too”
“The new staff are a breath of fresh air”
Well-being days for staff were common across the estate and widely valued by staff. Access to the gym (including at lunchtime) was another widely rated positive, while yoga, meditation and mindfulness sessions for staff were noted at Isle of Wight, Styal and Parc.
In a number of jails staff noted, and highly appreciated, the Governor personally contacting any staff member who’d been assaulted, and visiting them in hospital where applicable, as well as ensuring that any assaults on staff were followed up by the police.
Ready access to shower packs and clean clothes following potting incidents were highlighted at Manchester and Woodhill.
The support provided by care teams was frequently highlighted, with those at Woodhill, Eastwood Park and Brixton among many singled out by staff. Staff counselling was a positive in a number of jails, including (among others) at The Mount, Ashfield and High Down, while the full-time staff welfare officers at Wayland were highlighted by staff there. Personal touches, like a Governor who sends flowers to staff after a bereavement, were much valued too.
The positive impact of good working conditions was highlighted too (see under ‘the Basics – environment’ above).
The additional Officers brought in to underpin the new Keywork arrangements were, like the Keywork arrangements themselves, being rolled out during my tour, with some prisons further down the line at the time of my visits than others, but the increased capacity provided by the new staff was welcomed universally.
I was told of a range of initiatives to support new Officers during their first few months in the role. The impact of post-training shadowing and mentoring was highlighted across the estate, and extended periods of shadowing were noted and valued in a number of jails, including Hindley, Isis, Maidstone and Norwich, while managers at Garth reported that the introduction of two ‘supernumerary’ SOs to provide advice and support to new staff had had a significant impact. The new staff were given additional ‘jailcraft’ training at Brixton, Hull, Leeds and Wayland, among others, with Wayland also offering daily lunchtime mentor-led ‘drop ins’; and ‘buddy’ arrangements, to complement more formal mentoring arrangements, were highlighted at Brixton, Cardiff, Lindholme and Portland. Managers at Wakefield noted the formal involvement of prisoners in their staff induction programme.
At Wormwood Scrubs new recruits also had a week of shadowing before they started their training, and staff at Wakefield highlighted similar arrangements there – while managers at High Down, Manchester, Northumberland and Wormwood Scrubs rated the benefits of local recruitment in their jails.
Many staff told me of the importance of effective detailing in helping maximise continuity of staffing, and ensuring (where possible) an appropriate balance of experienced staff with newer recruits – and the benefits of operational experience in the detailing office were highlighted at Bedford, Long Lartin and Manchester. Self-rostering arrangements at Bure, Dartmoor, Stoke Heath and Eastwood Park were seen as positives too.
Many jails had staff messes, some of them (re-)introduced in recent years, and these were often highlighted as positives by staff. Breakfasts at Long Lartin and New Hall, and 7-day opening at Moorland, were especially popular. Staff rest rooms at Moorland and Onley, and the catering facilities at the latter, were highlighted too.
A number of jails held regular ‘family open days’ which were widely appreciated by staff, including at Dartmoor, Foston Hall, Lindholme and Ranby, and seen as helpful in reassuring potentially anxious family members about their loved ones’ safety. Family fun days and other events to which families were invited, like annual Xmas parties, were valued too.
Reception & induction
As was frequently noted during my tour, the early days in any jail are a high risk time for self-harm, and for prisoners getting into debt (with all the consequences that can have); but they are also an opportunity to ‘set the tone of a jail’, shape prisoners’ expectations (including what’s expected of them), identify their needs (including any healthcare issues), and generally help them settle in and prepare for their time in the prison.
The value of peer mentors, and a comfortable and welcoming feel, on both reception and induction, were commonly highlighted. The managers at Berwyn were proud of their newly built reception area, which they felt was ‘second to none’. Rye Hill’s reception, with its ‘relaxed ‘open’ feel’, alongside a 3-month peer-led induction, were singled out by both prisoners and staff. Staff at Wayland praised the ‘great’ First Night Centre, with its induction mentors and Listeners, and emergency credit for prisoners to call home on arrival, while the peer-led support for ‘first timers’ was praised at Elmley and Dovegate.
Ranby’s ‘essentials’ shop in reception was among initiatives to ensure prisoners had the basics on arrival, and help prevent them getting in to debt. New Hall’s 40 minute ‘bus to bed’ reception process was praised too, as were the ‘distraction packs’ (including reading materials and puzzle books) provided to women on reception at Drake Hall. Managers at Lincoln praised the briefings and psychological assessments provided by a partner agency, Spark Plus, before prisoners leave court.
Domestics (phones, food etc)
Prisoners, staff and managers all saw in-cell phones, where they had them, as a significant positive: helping prisoners to maintain family relations; reducing a potential source of conflict with staff and peers; and providing access to outside helplines, such as Samaritans, and in-house services, like the peer-run advice lines at Doncaster, Dovegate, Lowdham Grange and Lincoln. In some prisons, phones were also used to contact prisoners in their cells, including to remind them about forthcoming appointments.
Prisoner Information Desk mentors (PIDs) and their equivalents elsewhere, including ‘Signposters’ at Nottingham, and the centrally-located ‘community hub’ team at Swaleside, were widely rated for their roles in providing information to their peers and signposting them to services etc, as was the peer-produced guide for prisoners at Hewell, while in-house TV channels were highlighted in similar vein in a number of establishments, including Lowdham Grange, Hewell, Ranby and Maidstone.
‘Kiosks’ – touch-screen terminals on the wings which allow prisoners to deal with many ‘domestic’ issues (like putting in applications to see a doctor, booking visits, buying phone credit and sorting their canteen) – were rated in all the prisons that had them for taking pressure off staff and the relationships between prisoners and staff, and for giving prisoners back some responsibility and control. At Berwyn and Wayland, Kiosk services were accessible via tablets issued to prisoners, and these were viewed as a significant further enhancement.
In the absence of Kiosks, prisoner ‘app reps’, who help log and process applications, were highlighted at Exeter, Wormwood Scrubs and Swansea, with the rep at Swansea, described as a ‘human Kiosk’, working closely with a member of the admin team – while PIDs (and their equivalents) performed a similar (and equally valued) role in many other prisons.
Prisoners on Staff:
“The staff here are a different breed”
“We hold joint events with the staff and they’re really good”
“The staff inspire hope and everyone gets treated as a human being”
“There’s a mutual respect and doing events together makes a huge difference”
“They focus more on encouraging and praising than shouting and criticising”
“There’s a culture of respect and an underlying honest conversation”
“The staff are fantastic – they really care”
Although daily food budgets are limited to just over £2 per prisoner, the quality of the food was praised in a number of jails, including Ashfield, Bedford, Buckley Hall, Drake Hall, Lancaster Farms, Parc and The Verne, while two hot meals a day and a cooked breakfast were highlighted by prisoners at Leicester and Swansea, respectively. Prisoners appreciated the opportunity to cook for themselves, including (among others) at Frankland, Warren Hill, Styal and Stocken, while Full Sutton’s ‘opt out’ arrangements (allowing prisoners to use their budget allocation to purchase their own food) were highly valued.
A coffee shop, where they were able to meet friends in their spare time, was singled out by the women at Drake Hall. The ‘Glad Rags’ shop, allowing the women to buy clothes and make-up at affordable prices, and providing three free outfits to those women arriving without their own clothes, was highlighted at Downview, as were the charity clothes shops at Drake Hall and New Hall. And the shop at Warren Hill, where the men could buy their canteen instead of ordering it from catalogues or via Kiosks, was valued as ‘normalising’ by prisoners there.
Consultation & engagement
Most of the prisons I visited had some form of wing-based prisoner consultation, with prisoner-reps meeting regularly with managers to raise issues of relevance to themselves and their peers.
Many establishments had widely valued Prisoner Councils (and equivalents), with those at Buckley Hall, Gartree, Humber, Oakwood and Ranby (with its full-time engagement manager) among those receiving particular praise from prisoners. Diversity reps – covering each of the ‘protected characteristics’ – were also widespread and highlighted as positives in many prisons. And at Swaleside, prisoners helped audit the prison’s performance against the HMIP inspection standards, reporting back to the Governor on their findings – while Onley’s ‘Change Request’ (ideas) scheme was open to prisoners as well as staff.
Prisoners also had a widespread and widely valued role, across the estate, in supporting and mentoring their peers, from VR reps, reception and induction mentors, and PIDs (and their equivalents) noted in previous sections, to Samaritan-trained Listeners, healthcare and mental health mentors, ‘buddies’ (for those with social care needs), reading mentors and (at Oakwood) legal advice mentors, among many others. And at Wakefield, for instance, prisoners gave out canteen to their peers, freeing up staff for other tasks.
The positive impact of multi-disciplinary, individualised case management of the most challenging prisoners – along the lines of the CSIP (Challenge, Support and Intervention Plan) model being rolled out during my tour – was noted in many of the jails, and in a number of cases (including Brinsford, Coldingley and Foston Hall) prisoners’ families were involved in the process – while Swaleside had an ‘SOS team’ of Officers and psychologists providing an outreach and drop-in service to the most difficult prisoners there.
A number of jails had wings or spurs for ‘non-compliers’ and prisoners on Basic, focused on helping to address their behaviour and (re-)engage them in the regime, including at Altcourse, Leicester, Moorland, Nottingham and Parc, while managers at Wakefield pointed to their CSC’s Enabling Environment status.
Many prisons also had enhanced, or so-called ‘super-enhanced’, wings and spurs, and these were widely seen as a positive reward for the best behaved prisoners and an effective incentive to others.
Health & well-being
The prisoners singled out healthcare for praise at a number of establishments, including Deerbolt, Lancaster Farms, Humber, Littlehey and Eastwood Park. Managers at Berwyn reported that a wide range of services, including the pharmacy’s ‘meds-optimisation’ programme, had reduced the need for outside hospital visits.
In many prisons, including Erlestoke, Swaleside, Stafford, Oakwood and The Mount, trained prisoners acted as health & well-being champions, and these were widely seen to be effective. ‘Buddies’ helping prisoners with disabilities and complex social needs were also common and widely valued, including at Dartmoor, Holme House, Isle of Wight and The Verne. A number of prisons held well-being days for prisoners – in some cases jointly with staff – and this was something singled out by prisoners at Bure.
“The Chaplains are at the heart of everything here”
“The Chaplain team are just fantastic”
“He’s an amazing human being, the Chaplain”
A number of jails had supported living units, like those at Wymott, Bure and Oakwood, for prisoners with complex needs. Staff, managers and prisoners at Whatton all highlighted the prison’s support for prisoners with dementia, including widespread training for prisoners and staff, while managers at Drake Hall noted the prison’s ‘Dementia Friendly’ accreditation.
End of life care, including their dedicated palliative care suites, was highlighted at Exeter, Holme House, Hull, Norwich and Wakefield.
Mental health care got positive ratings in many of the jails I visited, with those singled out by prisoners including (among others) Durham, Dovegate, Feltham B, Stafford and Eastwood Park.
A number of initiatives highlighted during my tour include: trauma training for staff at Parc, Whitemoor, Peterborough, Styal and Send (where the training is run by prisoners); a trained trauma peer-champion for the women at Peterborough; a trauma-focused counselling psychologist at Eastwood Park; a ‘healing trauma’ course at New Hall; counselling for victims of abuse at Low Newton, New Hall and Peterborough; mindfulness courses at Parc; ‘mental health first aid’ training for all staff and mental health peer-mentors, at Birmingham and Ranby; ‘emotional well-being’ mentors at Swaleside; counselling services at Bedford, Rye Hill, Low Newton and Drake Hall; drop-in services for more vulnerable prisoners and self-isolators at Drake Hall and Humber; and Andy’s Man Club at Humber and Erlestoke. And the pastoral care provided by Chaplaincy staff was widely praised across the estate.
Wandsworth’s and Durham’s specialist in-patient mental health units, and Hull’s unit for prisoners ‘in crisis’, were also highlighted, and the Rowan House day care centre for women who were ‘struggling to cope’ was praised by the prisoners at New Hall – while the use of pat dogs and birds of prey with prisoners with mental health issues were noted at Long Lartin and Altcourse, respectively. Drake Hall’s managers highlighted the jail’s whole-prison Enabling Environment (EE) status as a real positive for the mental health of the women there, with EE wings at Ranby and Littlehey noted by the managers there too.
Samaritan-trained peer Listeners can be found in almost every prison, and received widespread praise for their role in helping to support those at risk of suicide and self-harm. Other initiatives highlighted in this regard include restrictions on the possession of razors at Belmarsh and Bedford (as detailed under ‘the Basics – safety’ above) and engaging prisoner’s families in supporting those on ACCTs, including at Aylesbury, Brinsford, Forest Bank, Lancaster Farms, Low Newton and Rochester.
Equalities & diversity
Throughout my tour I was told about the important role played by diversity and equality peer-reps in supporting prisoners with protected characteristics, and working with managers to ensure their needs are met.
With an increasing number of older prisoners in the system, support for the over-50s, often in conjunction with Age UK, was highlighted in many jails, including Whatton (and it’s OPAL drop-in centre), Elmley, Erlestoke, Frankland, Ranby and Wakefield. Support for trans prisoners, another growing group, was highlighted as a strength by prisoners in Belmarsh (including being able to purchase make-up through canteen), as well as by the managers at Frankland – while Lewes and Foston Hall both ran trans-awareness training for staff (in the latter case, run by the women there). Support for prisoners with learning disabilities was noted as a positive at Parc and Whatton, while Whatton was also rated for the support offered to prisoners with autism (including autism awareness training for prisoners and staff), and Feltham B had achieved ‘autism accreditation’ status.
Support for care leavers was highlighted at Portland, Swinfen Hall, Low Newton, New Hall and Peterborough; while support for veterans was singled out by prisoners at Cardiff, Parc and Winchester; and the prisoners at Ranby highlighted the involvement of both staff and prisoners in the support provided to minority groups there.
Children & families
Support for maintaining family relations has grown across the estate following the Lord Farmer Review of 2017, and was singled out for praise by prisoners in a number of jails including Buckley Hall, Doncaster, Parc, Thameside, Warren Hill and Winchester.
Phones in cells, where available, were universally seen as a positive in this regard (see also under ‘domestics’ above).
On family support:
“The mother and baby unit is amazing”
“Having staff in civvies for visits is great”
“The facilities – and the fudge cake – are fantastic”
Family visits, allowing prisoners to interact and play with their children, were widespread and widely praised, especially when they extend across a whole day (like at Dartmoor, Full Sutton, Highpoint and Hull) and where staff are dressed in civilian clothes instead of uniforms (like at Maidstone, Wandsworth, Drake Hall and Send), while managers at Foston Hall noted that prisoners families were allowed to tour the grounds during family days there. Special visits for lifers and IPPs were widely valued too – as were normal visits where (as in many cases) they lasted two hours or more.
Also highlighted were: ‘homework clubs’ (including at Berwyn, High Down, Lindholme and Low Newton); ‘kids clubs’ (e.g. at Exeter, Oakwood, Rye Hill and Winchester); private visits with children at Brixton; Mother and Baby visits (e.g. at Eastwood Park and New Hall); ‘breakfast visits’ at Hull; ‘coffee mornings’ at Elmley; evening visits at Brixton, Low Newton and Winchester; weekend visits at Low Newton, Winchester and Doncaster; ‘baby bonding’ and ‘toddler time’ sessions at Thameside; adults only visits at Send and Full Sutton; and an annual Xmas party for children at Bedford.
Prisoners at Berwyn and Buckley Hall praised being able to sit next to their visitors, rather than opposite them. The men at Berwyn also valued being allowed to wear their own clothes with no ‘bibs’ to identify them as prisoners, prisoners at Forest Bank liked a creche on visits, and the men at Hewell and Dovegate singled out the opportunity to spend time with their children outside. Prisoners at Highpoint and Erlestoke highlighted free transport for visitors from the local train station, provided by the prison (out of canteen profits) and a local charity (Friends of Erlestoke), respectively.
Storybook Dads, and Storybook Mums in the female estate, allowing prisoners to record themselves reading a bedtime story and send it to their children, was common and universally praised, including at Lowdham Grange and Buckley Hall, where their stories were recorded on video. And the men at Lowdham valued an information video for families about life in prison which their peers had produced.
Inviting families to join their loved ones at ‘celebration of achievement’ events was highlighted at Bullingdon, Channings Wood, Featherstone, Forest Bank and Drake Hall, while Forest Bank, Lancaster Farms and Manchester held forums for family members with prison managers.
On education & training:
“The education in here is the best I’ve ever come across”
“You can do all the building trades, the CSCS, that’s really good”
“The business courses, they’re great”
The Mother and Baby units at Eastwood Park, New Hall and Styal all received praise. The ‘family bonding unit’ at Foston Hall, where the women could have whole-day, private visits with their families, was highlighted too, as was the option for pregnant women there to have a ‘companion’ with them when giving birth. And parenting courses were noted as a positive by the men at Buckley Hall, Humber, Parc and Winchester.
Education and skills training received positive ratings in many of the prisons I visited, especially where there was a clear link with employment opportunities on release.
Programmes which prepared prisoners to gain a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card – like at Bedford, Brixton, Brinsford, Dartmoor and Ranby – were highly prized. The Network Rail Track Induction Course was among positives noted at Featherstone, Swinfen Hall and Cardiff. The PICTA IT training was singled out at Coldingley, Moorland and Wandsworth, as were: the coding course run by CODE4000 at Humber; business courses at Birmingham, Bronzefield, Usk and Whatton; and gym instructor courses offered at Doncaster, Isis, Lewes and Ranby (among others). Other programmes singled out include: the Halfords Academy at Drake Hall; hair and beauty courses at Styal and Downview; and horticulture courses at Downview and Haverigg. Recycling Lives, who help prisoners find employment on release, as well as housing for those who need it, was highlighted at Styal, Lincoln, Dovegate and Buckley Hall; while managers at Ranby reported that workshop contracts there were conditional on providers offering employment to prisoners on release.
Prisoners at Lindholme, Moorland and Cardiff highlighted rapid, post-induction, allocation to work and education as a positive for them.
“The library’s great – they get outside authors in, teach reading, all sorts”
“The library here is just like one on the out”
“The library is fantastic, the best”
The Learning Together initiative, which brought university students in to study together with prisoners, was both widespread and widely praised (e.g. Erlestoke, Haverigg, Chelmsford, Feltham and Whitemoor). Distance learning opportunities were widely valued as well.
Libraries also received widespread praise, including from prisoners at Deerbolt, Thameside, Downview, Erlestoke, Haverigg and Whitemoor, and events organised with visiting authors and other outside speakers, such as Erlestoke’s annual ‘Arts and Literature’ festival, were highly appreciated. Peer-led help with learning to read, through the Shannon Trust, was highlighted as a positive in many establishments too.
On the gym:
“The gym is just amazing, they’re brilliant, always help you out”
“The gym guys are incredible and help you do qualifications, too”
“The PEIs are a total credit to this place”
The gym and gym staff were also highly valued and widely praised. Prison Park Run, which started off at Haverigg and was beginning to be adopted elsewhere (including Buckley Hall and Channings Wood), received positive ratings. Links with local sports teams were noted and praised in a number of prisons too, while prisoners at Stocken played football in their local Sunday league (home games only!).
Rehabilitation & preparation for release
Encouraging prisoners to engage with the opportunities available to them, to assist their rehabilitation and help prepare them for release, is a key focus of the new Keywork scheme being rolled out during my tour and widely welcomed by prisoners, staff and managers (see ‘the Basics – safety’ for more details).
A range of Offending Behaviour Programmes (OBPs) designed to target specific risk factors for re-offending are offered across the estate, and these were highlighted on a number of my visits, as were the Pathways, Kainos and Cameo personality disorder programmes at Aylesbury, Haverigg and Foston Hall, respectively. Substance misuse services were widespread and highlighted in a number of establishments (as outlined in ‘the Basics – drugs’).
A number of prisons had specialist PIPE units, PD units and Therapeutic Communities (TCs), all aimed at aiding the rehabilitation of those with especially complex needs, and these were highly rated, as was Grendon, the only whole-prison TC in the estate.
The ‘Building Hope’ unit at Garth, IPP unit at Humber, and whole-prison ‘progression regime’ at Warren Hill, which were aimed at helping those on indeterminate sentences to progress through the system, were also highlighted.
The resettlement support provided by local probation services at Bedford, Bristol, Dovegate, Lewes and Ranby, among others, as well as a dedicated resettlement wing at Onley, were rated in helping to prepare prisoners for release. Other ‘positives’ noted in this regard were: resettlement fairs at Northumberland; job fairs, including at Bure, Lewes, Norwich, Ranby and Wandsworth; job interview training at Drake Hall and Peterborough; help preparing CVs at Send and Peterborough; housing support at Drake Hall and Exeter (see also ‘Recycling Lives’ in the previous section); pre-release courses, including at Hindley, Liverpool, Wandsworth and Whatton; and the ‘Departure Lounge’ at Lincoln (where prisoners can charge mobiles, make calls, liaise with probation, and get transport to the rail station).