The Prisoner Policy Network by David Breakspear
I was invited to a special event, at HMP Coldingley, by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) which took place on Thursday 31st January. It was an event to launch the first report, ‘What incentives work in prison?’ (<click on link to see full report) produced by the Prisoner Policy Network (PPN).
The event had an excellent turnout with a mix of former and current prisoners alongside representatives from a wide range of agencies and support providers. Invited guests listened to, a very warm welcome, speech given by the governor Jo Simms.
This set the tone for the director of the PRT, Peter Dawson to provide a short introduction to the work of the PPN, Peter introduced the report and the report’s authors, Dr Lucy Wainwright, Paula Harriott and Soruche Saajedi, who went onto explain the findings of the report.
Two of the guests that attended were representatives from the Ministry of Justice, and it was these two ladies that we listened to next. They discussed, not only the relevance of the PPN, but also how important consultation with prisoners is when developing prison policies.
What followed next was, for me, one of two main highlights. It was a Q&A session that was chaired by Peter Dawson with a panel that included the three authors of the report, Lucy, Paula and Soruche. Two ideas from the audience, both made sense and are something I would actually like to see introduced myself.
The first was from a former female prisoner who put forward a suggestion, based on an old policy, but also based on total logic in my opinion, was to see the return of parole sentences. Prior to the 2003 criminal justice act, anyone serving a sentence of more than four years, would be the subject of a parole hearing.
The minimum term for parole could be debated, however, what needs no debate, and from someone who lost out on parole pre 2003, to receive an earlier release, than the proposed date, is the biggest incentive anyone could have, although the current IPP debacle, in my personal opinion would need to be sorted out first in order to provide trust in the scheme.
During the session, it was discussed how if one prisoner causes grief then everyone suffers. Two examples were put forward. One was in relation to family visits, if a prisoner plays up on the visit, it can lead on to the visits being temporarily suspended, for no other reason than to punish prisoners. The other, was the ‘red bands’, a position of trust, but also for the ‘Wombles’ a risky position, because when parcels are caught coming over, it’s ALL the ‘Wombles’ who get suspended and will be fortunate to keep their jobs after.
The one cap fits all approach does not work in prison anymore. It did a few years back. A lot has changed, however. ‘Wombles’ are prisoners who walk, usually unescorted, around the grounds of the prison picking up rubbish. Not the best prison job, especially when the prison you’re in has no in cell sanitation and you have to rely on night san to get you out trouble, which isn’t always the case and can leave the ‘Wombles’ with some nasty surprises.
After the Q&A session the launch of the second question, ‘What do you need to make best use of your time in custody?’. Again, it was facilitated by a chair with a panel. The chair this time was Rod Earle from The Open University. The panel consisted of: a serving Coldingley prisoner, Paula Harriott (PRT), Peter Yarwood (Red Rose Recovery) and Matthew Kidd (Creative Inclusion). The discussion revolved around the second question ‘What do you need to make best use of your time in custody?’. Following this, and my second highlight, we were split into nine groups of between 7-9 per group, where we began a discussion on the second question.
My group consisted of a current Coldingley prisoner and representatives from a variety of agencies, including a government representative, as well as someone from the PRT. Something I dreamt about, not so long ago, when banged up behind my door. At the end of the discussions, we were provided with a wonderful buffet lunch provided by the prison, cooked and served by prisoners, who, I should add, joined in with the final group discussions.
The event shows, in moving forwards, the system is finally listening to those who have lived experience and can help assist in the re-shaping of the prison estate and provide a system that is finally fit for purpose.
A Reformed Man.