A View From The Inside

Mark Humphries is A life sentenced prisoner living in the community after spending over a decade in prison on his original sentence and then four years on a recall. He is a student with the Open University and regularly comments on prison matters. In these blogs he shares his views on the prison system.

What images do you see when you hear news of the prisons in this country? Recent media reporting has not been greatly in support of the Prison Service. You might not have given prisons much thought in the past. I want to change that. I want to share, in this blog, issues of prison life and some of the rehabilitative work that goes on inside these closed communities.

There are people who have chosen to keep going into prison. They have a job to do in looking after those sent to jail by the courts. In essence, although these people are employed by Her Majesty’s Prison andProbation Service, they work for you. They are charged with helping prisoners become changed people. Every prison across the country will be made up of a similar staff group to the one I describe here.; each of them will also have their own reasons for taking on this challenging role.

Uniformed prison officers, who today as I write this had to stage another mass work stoppage due to the unsafe working conditions, are the main body of the staff group. These are the people who unlock and lock up the prisoners every day; they are the ones that have direct day-to-day contact with the men and women in custody. It is these people that walk the landings and deal with the mood of the prison, and this mood can change very rapidly.

Front-line prison officers are supported in their task by a multi-disciplinary group that include GPS, nurses, mental health workers, teachers, librarians, workshop instructors and chaplains. All of these will have some day-to-day contact with the prisoners and their needs. Behind the scenes as it were there are there administrative and support staff who all help to keep the prisons around this country in working order. Each one has a role that is as vital as the prison officer.

Today the Prison Service has a greater programme of rehabilitation work than ever before. This is mainly carried out through the Offendi g Behaviour Programme (OBP). There are courses that come under this umbrella which the prisoners can participate in. Mire recently there has been some progression from the Prison Service in extending this work outside of the accredited programmes. Units have been set up whereby the prisoners can put into practice what they have learned elsewhere. These units encourage prisoners to work at making the changes in their lives that are needed to enable them to go on to lead a crime free life outside of custody.

Prison changes people, and there are staff who want to ensure that it changes the prisoners for the best. This is not always supported by the people in the Prison Service headquarters nor at government level. We have seen too many Secretary of State for Justice come and go. This has to stop if Great Britain is going to have a custodial system that is fit for purpose and can carry out its obligations to you, the public. You need a Justice Secretary that is going to work for you and put in place a robust programme that supports prison officers as well as the prisoners. Rewriting old regimes, as done by the current Prisons Minister is not going to work. It is, in fact, going to have the reverse effect.

As I mentioned earlier, today Prison Officers had to take action due to the unsafe working conditions. Recently the media has highlighted the Prison Inspectors report into HMP Birmingham, and how that was said to be the worst of conditions. The reported acted on today highlights issues at yet another prison establishment. It might surprise you to find that as an ex-prisoner I am writing in support of the prison staff, but I do so because we all need safe prisons. Without them men and women will be leaving prison with no help or changes made in their lives.

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