Visit to HMP Stafford and the PRT Launch of the Prisoner Policy Network Report

Well ….

Well ….

I managed to get to HMP Stafford after negotiating the M6 Roadworks, and minimal parking, finding a local long stay and a 5 minute walk from the main gate. HMP Stafford has been in existence for over 300 years, having been built on an older site with a Penitentiary, House of Correction and Goal all of which was incorporated into a new Building in 1836, which means it’s a classic Victorian style prison with tall gallery style wings and the high atrium’s beloved of Victorian prison builders. There’s been much change recently to soften the hard architecture and incorporate new spaces providing a softer approach with Gardens, Furniture and Design Consultation!

After negotiating the gate I was escorted up to the main visitor Hall, a very pleasant space, decorated, carpeted and furnished with corporate style chairs and tables…The Governor Ralph was on hand and was the first person I met on getting my lanyard badge. He was keen to talk and recognised Changing Tunes Midlands… as one of the great things he’s been working to provide into the Prison along with other Art and Creative projects. We’ve been working in Stafford over the last two years but have had to re-recruit recently so our new Musician Matt Newell is about to start there.

The Prisoner Policy Network Launch was hosted by Paula Harriot and her colleagues who created the new report covering the consultation with over 400 prisoners across the Justice Sector. The report covers the questions “What do you need to make the best use of your time in Prison”. It’s a question you wont get asked on being inducted into a Prison and incarcerated…however it’s a question that Prisoners are mostly likely to be able to answer from within the system. The tension between Punitive and Rehabilitative cultures is always a difficult one and the most recent thinking on it seems to tend toward “Normalising” life inside as much as possible to develop a culture off optimism, change for the better and growth, all things which a lot of Prisoners don’t get on the outside let alone inside. So the balance between punishment and rehabilitation is often a case of working to fix broken people, with a system that also has a lot of tensions between “ People” working in the system whose thinking needs to be trained correctly to adopt new approaches.

The PRT (Prison Reform Trust) work to provide a voice for Prisoners, that need to have someone to hear what their saying about how best to “ Solve “ their needs… move them on from their past and work to give them a future away from that past… for some this may never happen in their lifetime and their life in Prison also has to be considered something which needs to work to convert them into productive and contributing people.

The hundred or so people gathered from across all sectors of the Justice System, listened to the presentation and commentary form MOJ representatives and Peter the Chair of the PRT as well as enjoying an interesting debate on the questions raised by the report, which also included the secondary question “ How can violence be reduced in the Prisons”, although this is a debate that has raged for years the clear message that came out in our group, was clear and consistent communication, fair and just and balanced approaches to failures to perform to standards, and massive investment into training of Prison Officers.

The Lunch was put on in expert style by the Prisoners who received a good round of applause to their embarrassment and the day concluded with a Governor led tour of the prison, meeting inmates and looking at all the initiatives Ralph is building on to Normalise the way people are treated including, Guaranteed work on leaving from various qualifications, training and valuable work in the various workshops, gardens and growing their own food, a Charity Shop for inmates to buy clothes, books and DVD’s, a soft reception and induction process including an Information desk run by Prisoners for Prisoners. Comments from Ex Prisoners who went on the tour we’re overwhelmingly positive on the way HMP Stafford operates and couldn’t quite “ relate” to their experience of prisons, being entirely less positive.

It’s always a interesting experience going around a prison or visiting and meeting people and HMP Stafford is doing a great job of working toward the recommendations in the PRT PPN report detailing

What Do You Need to Make the Best Use of Your Time in Prison

Picture Credit: Erika Flowers