I try to advocate the importance of the relationship, as much as I can, between staff and prisoners. How it is this relationship, that is fundamental to the safe running of any prison. Prison is a complex environment for relationships, which can break down for a number of reasons, such as: having no consistency, becoming too close, or, too distant and so on, all creating trust issues, in some cases too much and in others, none at all.

‘Inspectors found that safety was not good enough in nearly two-thirds of males prisons (64%) they visited last year. On average, half of the people said that they had felt unsafe at some time whilst in prison. But at large inner city local prisons, like Liverpool, Leeds and Pentonville, this rose to around 70%.’

As cited in Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, Autumn 2018, Prison Reform Trust.

I feel a lot of the issues are because prison has lost it’s focus and, therefore, its purpose in society. What are we using prisons for, or what are we expecting from them, and do those beliefs match? The culture of our prisons is no longer in the hands of those that work and reside there, nor is it in the hands of those charged with the management and control of them. Instead, the culture in prison is being influenced by the likes of the Daily Mail, Star and Mirror, along with the Sun and so on. We have allowed the tabloid media to have a negative influence over the most important aspect of prison life, that of the relationship between staff and prisoner, which, in reality, is the glue that holds prison together, even at its weakest moments. Is it any wonder this relationship is fractured? However, is it really that bad, or is it more a case of the minority being reported as the majority, thereby, creating a false image?

‘Safety in prisons has deteriorated rapidly during the last six years. People in prison, prisoners and staff, are less safe than they have been at any point since records began, with more self-harm and assaults than ever before. After a welcome decline last year, the number of self-inflicted deaths has risen once again.’

As cited in Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, Autumn 2018, Prison Reform Trust.

I am not proud to admit that my last sentence was for a knife-crime, I committed an armed robbery at knife-point. I have, like a lot of prisoners similar to my experience, covered a lot of different job roles in prison. One of which was working in the kitchens,  with other prisoners – with a variety of crimes and sentences, especially in a B cat local, along with the guilty and falsely accused, and those yet to be found not guilty or guilty, whether innocent or not – we had access to, in fact, handed, sharp, large knives in order to prepare the food. However, this is not just something that happens in prison kitchens, for, up and down the country, on landings and wings, in what some may regard as high-risk dangerous environments, individuals – again, with a variety of crime and sentences – are swapping their plastic prison ID cards, for kitchen knives, to prepare food on the landing, using cookers, on the landing.

If you think it’s because of the rules and regulations that allow this to go on, then I’m afraid you are wrong. Take a moment to recall the latest tabloid horror stories in relation to the situation in our prisons. Yet! On a daily basis, 1,000’s of knives are handed out in return for a piece of plastic, in an exchange more about trust than anything else. A trust that, not only, is being influenced by the tabloids, but it is also being eroded by them.

‘PPO investigations of deaths in segregation units often found that staff did not always follow, or even know about national instructions, including that prisoners at risk of suicide should only be segregated in exceptional circumstances.’

As cited in Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, Autumn 2018, Prison Reform Trust.

There is so much that is wrong with our prisons: self-inflicted deaths, self-harm and assaults. There is also the lack of recommendations being implemented by governors and directors made by HM Inspector of Prisons, the IMB, along with recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following a death in custody. It’s as if prisoners lives do not matter to management. Yet! Within that same very environment there are hundreds, if not thousands, of incredible stories of strength, courage, resilience, the changing of lives, and I mean staff as well as prisoners. It’s individuals that make the difference. We have companies like Timpsons, with James Timpson and his fantastic staff, theres Clean Sheet UK and Jane Gould with her amazing team, the list is endless. Individuals making a difference built on relationships and trust. Doing what they say they will, and staying true to their word.

Building Better Relationships (BBR), although an offending behaviour course, should, in my opinion, be the Ministry of Justices’ next major policy drive.

‘Many prisons are failing to learn the lessons from self-inflicted deaths. Inspectors found that a third of prisons visited in 2017-2018 has not implemented recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) well enough following a self-inflicted death – the same proportion as the year before.’

As cited in Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, Autumn 2018, Prison Reform Trust.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Well done, David. You’re right, most people at large do not realise that prisoners are entrusted with weapons every day. I remember at High Down in 2017/18 we received a note from the Governor to say that we were entitled, amongst other things, to waste bins. Every day on my way to work I could see metal waste bins piled up in a corridor near the workshops. So, armed with the Governor’s letter, one day a few of us helped ourselves. On the way back to the wing we were stopped and told to return them because there was a concern for safety as they were metal. About three weeks later they were issued to us.

    Like

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