Supporting the Probation Service During COVID-19

Farida Zerglanie is a Criminal Justice with Offender Management student who is volunteering for Change Grow Live (CGL) and working at HMP Foston Hall with the resettlement Team. She has written a blog on her experiences of volunteering under COVID-19 conditions.

Change Grow Live (CGL) is a charity funded by councils and local authorities to support the Probation Service.  I have been a part of CGL since November 2019, after beginning my [Criminal Justice with] Offender Management course at Staffordshire University. I was soon made aware of CGL by several students who were volunteers from Staffordshire University. Some of the Level Five students were already in fully paid managing roles; their successful reputation was admirable. I knew that getting involved with this organisation would enhance my knowledge and skills. In only a short time I have taken part in various support strategies, such as ‘Through the Gate’ which entails greeting the prisoners being released (service user) at the gate of various prisons in Staffordshire and South Derbyshire. My role as a volunteer is to support people who have been released from prison and take them home or to the Probation Centre. We then support them as they reintegrate back into the community; each case is tailored individually to meet the needs of our service users.

We have all been placed under restrictions in this current pandemic, and this has affected our positions, roles, activities and social contact. This seems to be the new norm for our society currently. At CGL we are aware that our support is crucial for people being released in these difficult times; our continued support is a necessity to many. We feel that our service users rely on our effective through-the-gate support.

Other students and I have continued our volunteering duties in supporting people through this pandemic. We have successfully continued to provide the support that our service users require, to the best of our ability. We have been following Government guidelines and taken the appropriate safety precautions, such as adopting social distancing and wearing PPE whilst providing support to our service users. Staff from CGL have temporarily stopped escorting in vehicles to maintain the two meters social distancing and adhere to Government guidelines.

However, we have continued the travelling assistance support and the community support with adjustments. This has been achieved by the CGL team applying safety measures in place for volunteers, to continue providing support to service users ‘in and out’ of custody as safely and effective as possible. Measures such as on the day of release volunteers have been waiting for the service user at the visitation centre, where once released they are greeted maintaining a two-metre social distance, wearing PPE as per the Government guidelines.

The volunteers give the released prison a mask, a bus pass with unlimited travel, and an email address, to pass on to their probation officer if they require any support in the community. The re- settlement team have adapted new measures to maintain Government guidelines and follow legal requirements that the ex-offender must abide by following licence conditions. In addition to being greeted by the volunteer, a member of the re-settlement team is also present to provide a telephone to maintain contact with the allocated Probation Officer, which would also then be used to communicate with the volunteer offering community support.

All the students who are part of CGL will continue to volunteer under these challenging circumstances as we feel that we provide a crucial but not well publicised service to the community.

 

Research Opportunities for Criminal Justice with Offender Management Students.

Students who chose to enrol on the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice with Offender Management course soon found themselves working on projects for Governors and Prison Managers. In this blog, Louis Martin reflects on some of the activities first year students engaged in as well as studying on their course.

The Deputy Governor at HMP Stafford asked me if some students from the course could help him with a couple of projects in the prison. He wanted some work doing on the culture of prison officers in the prison and two of the first year students stepped up and went into the prison and set up focus groups to discuss some of the key themes operating within HMP Stafford.

Sinead Bowles and Farida Zerglaine interviewed staff and compiled a report for the governor with their findings. I proofread the report and with a few amendments this report is now on its way to HMPS Headquarters for perusal by one of the senior executives. Sinead even had the opportunity to meet Stan and Olie, the prison goats.

First year student Debbie Ball is set to work on a project for the Deputy Governor of HMP Drake Hall as soon as the ‘Lockdown’ lifts. I went over to meet with the team from Drake Hall in February and negotiated a partnership agreement with the Deputy Governor. He agreed to provide Debbie with security training and projects to get involved in. We also have our own Civic Fellow, Tim Bailey, who is a Prison Officer at Drake Hall to help out too. Tim is the Outreach Officer and his role is to find employment for the women in the prison. I hope that Tim will be able to help Debbie when she is working in the prison, so this is very exciting.

Sinead Bowles has also been working with me on a project in HMP Dovegate. We have been at work with the trainers at SERCO to deliver some training on report writing skills and the use of Microsoft Teams. Sinead delivered sessions using her own experience of report writing at Stafford to share tips and hints for the trainee officers to right incident reports. We are set to teach the new recruits how to use Teams for their own studies.

Taken together the first year students have had a fantastic opportunity to get engaged with field work and to enjoy a real flavour of the custodial sector.

My Experiences of Microsoft Teams on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management Course

With the move to remote working, due to the Covid-19 virus, our teaching methods have also moved online. Staffordshire University are doing their best to ensure students do not miss out on their learning. Sinead Bowles, a student on the BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management course, takes us through how Microsoft Teams is helping her studies, as well as her own teaching experiences using the programme.

Microsoft Teams is a fairly new platform which can be used in a variety of work or educational settings. Teams is a Microsoft 365 app, which allows members to form teams, broadcast messages, hold video conferences and to communicate with other individuals on a professional basis. As a first-year student at Staffordshire University, I was initially introduced to Teams on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management Degree as this platform was used to convey lecture and workshop materials. As this platform allows for several teams to be formed, I had one for each module including numerous channels for a week by week breakdown of content which made it easy to follow. The messaging function on Teams meant that it was trouble-free to contact lecturers or other students; as a result, it made the introduction to university work extremely streamlined and simple.

As I progressed through my course, I was invited to deliver some teaching about criminal justice to prison officer recruits at HMP Dovegate. Serco had already transitioned over to using Teams as their main platform and this proved to be advantageous to the presenters from Staffordshire University. We created a Team with the training staff at HMP Dovegate, so teaching materials could be created on Microsoft Teams simultaneously by all of the team members. I delivered a session on report writing skills using Teams on a large monitor in the prison’s Training Centre.

“Microsoft Teams has meant that students learning has not been compromised at this unprecedented time”

Teams is available on a comprehensive selection of mobile devices, allowing us to easily keep in contact and access files. Technology has proven to be an issue in the past when teaching at prisons; however, using Teams we were able to provide a problem-free teaching package.

The learners were required to submit essays on a chosen topic, which would then be marked and count towards their apprenticeship, it was decided that this would be done through Teams. The team found that marking the assignments online was more effective and less time consuming as the Word document can be opened in Teams, marked in collaboration and saved automatically. The prison training manager opened up the documents and saw the progress of marking and got an idea of the level of engagement by the officers before the work had been returned back to them. Teams made the teaching and marking experience effective, organised and effortless.

Sinead Bowles using Teams to teach at HMP Dovegate earlier this year

With the recent developments of Coronavirus and the United Kingdom lockdown, Microsoft Teams is more vital than ever. Tutors at Staffordshire University have been holding online lectures through Teams, by using the meeting function lecturers are able to lecture the class live through video call and present the slides which are mirrored onto student’s devices. Whilst using the meeting function, Microsoft Teams can still be used as normal as the meeting is minimised; consequently, workshop exercises can still be completed individually, with the support from the lecturer. Students are able to use their microphone to ask questions, or answer questions, therefore interactive learning is not lost. Microsoft Teams has meant that students learning has not been compromised at this unprecedented time.

Offender Management Experience at HMP Dovegate

Katrina Robinson, a level 4 student on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree, and students from the School of Law, Policing and Forensics went on an educational trip to Dovegate Prison last month, with Course Leader Louis Martin and lecturer Dave Simmonds. 

I didn’t know what to expect when walking into the prison, as it was my first time being inside a male Cat B prison.  I was aware of the variety of sentences being served by the prisoners, being high security and I kept an open mind.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Custodial Manager Brendan, and Prison Custody officer, gym instructor and staff trainer Simon. We all gathered in the reception waiting area where it was explained to us the itinerary for the day. [We then] proceeded to the training room, where current prison officers were undertaking their annual training programme and continued to the security check area where we were all searched before entering the prison grounds.

Once on the grounds, I was surprised to see how big the area was, and the prison itself was set out in different buildings rather than one big building.  We followed the walkway around the buildings and was told to stand aside as an alarm was set off and many prison officers ran towards the alarm. Brendan, after checking on the situation, explained that prisoners inside the visiting area had set the alarm off by accident.

The first building we entered was the gym where it was recorded 45 prisoners were there all using the gym equipment, some of which had use of the facilities 4 times a week due to their being on enhanced level of Incentive and Earned Privileges. 

Once we left the gym, we carried on the walk past the Vulnerable Persons Wing, which we weren’t allowed to enter due to the severity of the risk involved and headed towards the Offender Management Unit.  Within the Offender Management Unit O9MU), it reminded me of a standard office setting, with Multi agency staff all working together.  Here we were met by the Manager of the department who talked us through the daily running’s and what the OMU’s staff responsibilities were, such as sentence plans and rehabilitation plans.

After leaving the OMU, we headed towards the Therapeutic Centre (TC), also known as a prison within a prison which had a completely different feel from the main block. Brendan and Simon explained that we were going to meet and talk to 6 prisoners serving a range of different sentences.  Brenden advised us to ask as many questions as we would like, due to the prisoners being in therapy, anything they talk about they are open and willing to do so.

Here, we learned the reasons why the prisoners committed the crime and their childhood experiences; [they] all showed immense remorse for their actions, and the one thing that was great to see was their attitude towards life and looking forward to their future once released.  All the prisoners that we spoke to all agreed that the therapy that they were having has helped them massively to move forward and towards being a better person.  The conversations were accompanied with lunch that was put on for us all. [It] was a relaxed and calm atmosphere and I felt very safe.

We were then shown the wing in which they live and were lucky enough to see inside one of the cells. The TC wing was segregated from the main block, which I feel was a good choice, as the prisoners at the TC chose to enter therapy and not to get mixed up in any trouble that may occur within the main block.

After leaving the prison and back on the coach, I had time to reflect on the events of the day. I was so happy to have been able to go to Dovegate.  It was a fantastic opportunity for us all, which we’d never have the chance to experience without Louis, Dave, Simon and Brendan for which I’m extremely grateful.

 

 

 

The Significance of Volunteering

Danielle Hackett, a second year student on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree, explains the significance of volunteering, how it has helped her course and how the course has helped her volunteering experiences.

I did not understand the significance of volunteering, until I became a volunteer. In my first year of Criminal Justice with Offender Management, I became a volunteer for a rehabilitation charity called CGL. Whilst volunteering for CGL, I was able to use my knowledge and skills from my university course whilst working with offenders and other sectors, and I was also able to use my experience from volunteering in my university course.

Through my volunteering, I have had the chance to work with a range of offenders from prisons all around Staffordshire and have been able to visit prisons such as HMP Dovegate, HMP Foston Hall, HMP Drake Hall and YOI Brinsford. It has provided me with a vast experience of the prison system, as well as the probation service and other important services around Staffordshire as we all work together in a partnership.

I recently applied for a job at CGL, the post is for a year as a volunteer co-ordinator, they oversee the Staffordshire volunteers. I was successful in my application and I am eager to soon start my new job and I believe that becoming a volunteer was a very imminent part of receiving this job. I also have a job as a student ambassador at Staffs University and the job allows me to earn money and gain experience at the same time, it is a perfect job for students as I can choose which hours I work. The job has allowed me to meet different people such as students and staff members, but also other academics and professionals. It has enabled me to develop even more skills such as interviewing people.

I have just spent three days at a Cat B male prison, training to become a key handler. The three days consisted of personal protection training, corruption training, suicide and self-harm prevention and security training. Therefore, I am now able to draw keys at this prison, which is another step in the door in the future, but I am also now able to hold meetings with the prisoners about CGL and what help we can provide them with when they are released. Attending university is important, however, I have learnt that volunteering in the industry is also very beneficial for my future and that it works hand in hand with my course.

Whilst volunteering for CGL, I was able to use my knowledge and skills from my university course whilst working with offenders and other sectors, and I was also able to use my experience from volunteering in my university course.

My First Year as a BA (Hons) Criminal Justice with Offender Management student

Debbie Ball is a Level Four student on our Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree. She has written a blog piece explaining why she chose to study with us and how the degree will help her career. 

In September 2019 I became a mature student of the Criminal Justice with Offender Management course (CJWOM). I have worked for several local agencies for over 10 years across the city. I have worked for many years for a drug treatment service and in the housing sector working to find suitable accommodation for newly released prisoners. I have been privileged to have worked closely with the local prisons, probation service and other third sector agencies in my professional career.

My decision to apply for the CJWOM course was influenced by a female probation officer that I worked closely with to house a vulnerable gentleman with complex needs. This proved to be a difficult task due to his criminal record and complex needs, unfortunately before we managed to find housing for the gentleman he sadly passed away. This experience had a profound effect on me, I felt that I wanted to be able to make a real difference and had a passion for rehabilitation and supporting people wanting an opportunity for change. Working in the public sector can be very rewarding but also very sad, the clients I have worked with have been my greatest teachers over the years but felt that it was now the right time to cement my experiences into academic knowledge.

The Course Leader, Louis Martin, spoke at the open day for the course about gaining experience in the criminal justice sector as he felt that this would help build skills and gain experience. Due to my working relationship with the female probation officer I had previously worked with, I contacted her regarding returning to university and she encouraged me to apply to work at the national probation service approved premises as a sessional worker.

A sessional residential worker is paid employment and you are required to cover shifts for sickness, annual leave or general staff absence. The role includes supporting people with every day requests, general admin and a close multi agency approach with the police, probation and PPU (Public Protection Unit) and more.
An approved premise is for high risk offenders who been assigned to live at an address owned by probation services as part of a licence agreement on their release from prison. Some residents can be released to the premises as part of a ROTL (release on temporary licence) short stay, an alternative to a recall to prison or a longer stay to ensure integration back into society. There are several approved premises located across the west midlands and by becoming a sessional worker I could choose my location, hours and days to fit around my university studies.

The application and clearance/vetting stages are both lengthy processes which I began in June 2019 and finally received my clearance in October 2019, the process includes a DBS and background check. I completed a number of shadow shifts as requested by the approved premises manager over a number of weeks for training purposes and to get a feel for how the AP operates before I was able to complete a shift as a full sessional worker.

I have been at the AP now for 3 months and really enjoy it, it can be challenging and complex at times and I am sure there are a lot of misconceptions regarding violence and the environment but in my own experience I have not found this to be the case. Working at the approved premises has given me a good insight to the probation service but I still have a lot to learn.

First Year Student Gains Experience through Work and Research at HMP Stafford

Sinead Bowles is a first year student on the BA(Hons) Criminal justice with Offender Management degree. She is already gaining experience working for the deputy governor in HMP Stafford with level five and six students, and has written about her experiences.

Sinead Bowles is a first year student on the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree

The original building for HMP Stafford was built in 1793, and this was further expanded on as the population grew. The category C prison now holds around 750 offenders, who have committed sexual offences. Due to the origins of the buildings the site is astounding and fortunately me and two of my peers had the privilege of a guided tour with the deputy governor Claud Lofters, which was distinctly dissimilar to what would have been expected from such a prison.

NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH.

Claud was keen to explore why his employee’s appeared to be disconnected from the importance of their role, both in rehabilitation and support of those offenders kept in the prison.This is something which we will be conducting further research on. We intend to hold focus groups with staff, to highlight the amazing work they do every day and see what suggestions they may have which could create higher motivation and engagement. From this we aim to create a job description with a more holistic view of the role of a prison officer to help create a rehabilitative culture.

Our tour began, by being shown around one of the blocks. The number of doors, the landings, and the halls where overwhelming. One inmate kindly offered to show us his cell, which he shared with one other person, the rooms were well sized, had shower rooms and this inmate in particular had a TV and other bits such as speakers, suggesting he was a higher status based on behaviour. As we were talking to this gentleman, he started to explain how HMP Stafford has helped him and that in comparison to other institutions this was the best in terms of facilities and support.

Our tour then moved onto seeing the prisons goats and chickens. These are kept to help the inmates feel that they had the responsibility to help care for these animals, on this day families were coming to visit and as this was the school holidays it has been requested that the goats were taken up to the visitation room to meet some of the children. Me, Natalie, Molly and Claud were asked to help take the goats up. From personal experience I can confirm that getting the leads onto goats and getting them upstairs is not easy! But it was very warming to see the children excited and to see the inmates getting time with their families. It was also delightful to see the efforts which the prison officers, and staff will go to in order to help the inmates.

“Our tour then moved onto seeing the prisons goats and chickens”.

We were very lucky to be able to go into the senior area where the older prisoners can go in the day, some of the inmates were working on a project. This project involves making flowers out of different coloured papers which then go into a handmade box, and other inmates can purchase these at a low cost to gift to their visitors. Younger prisoners are able to learn different skills at HMP Stafford, the end of our tour was being shown these, which involve painting and decorating, the skills needed to be a barber, brick laying, and even a course which allows inmates to go onto work on train tracks which lasts ten weeks but outside of prison could take a few years, Claud explained they wish to offer inmates skills which could allow them to be self-employed due to their criminal background.

Our day at HMP Stafford was very informative and eye opening, our research team was very grateful for the opportunity to be shown around and are very excited for our ongoing work with the prison.

Welcome Week: an Educational Trip to HMP Drake Hall

A month into the first semester, students are settling in well to their courses. Welcome Week was a success in making students feel comfortable and getting them excited for their new course. We had trips, personal tutor meetings and team exercises to help them adjust. One of our students, Annie Middleton – a first year Criminal Justice with Offender Management student – has shared her experience of a valuable trip to HMP Drake Hall during Welcome Week.

During the university’s Welcome Week, Level 4 Offender Management students had the opportunity to visit HMP Drake Hall – a closed Women’s resettlement prison with an operational capacity of approximately 340 adults and young offenders. HMP Drake Hall also holds 25 prisoners in an open unit situated outside of the prison gate, which allows the women to access the local community and facilities such as the gym, work opportunities, and the local town centres, prior to their release.

Upon our arrival we were welcomed into the prison’s visitor centre. Unlike other prisons, and those depicted in movies and on TV, this visitor centre was a vast contrast from the dark and dingy visiting rooms that most of us were expecting. The pavement outside was covered in bright paintings where children could play and learn to count, and the centre itself was no different; bright blue walls and picture, comfortable chairs and a spacious environment where children and families would be made to feel safe and welcomed. It felt more like a community centre than a prison.

Our class were split into three separate groups, and as the first group were taken on a tour of the prison by Tim, who had kindly organised and made this visit possible, my group sat down with an offender, who also volunteers within the prison as a ‘Peer Advisor’. While talking with this offender, and a second one later in the day, we were given the opportunity to ask whatever questions we had about their experiences during their sentences.

The first offender we spoke to spoke about her experience living her life without her children. We learnt that the prison offers special ‘children’s days’ during school holidays, where the prison officers dress in normal clothes, and the environment is made to feel more normal for the children and their families. These days can be extremely beneficial to the women and the children, and as we learnt, can help keep the offender’s spirits up during their sentences, and help maintain a sense of normality into the lives of the children. The second offender we spoke to had very contrasting views from the first; she felt that she had been failed by the criminal justice system and was angry and dissatisfied with the support she had been receiving – or lack thereof. I asked her if she had received any mental health support to help deal with the emotional impact of her prosecution and sentence, and she spoke of how many women in the prison system never receive mental health intervention because the waiting time is usually longer than their sentence.

After, we were shown around the prison grounds, being shown the voluntary and paid outwork programmes; including the opportunity to work in an on-site call centre, the Halfords Academy and the Greggs Academy; all of which have the possibility of employment on release. The prison also offers schemes such as education, workshops, farming and gardening, a gym and a beauty salon where the women can spend money earnt from work. Walking around the prison was unlike anything we could have expected; it was, as the prisoners described “a holiday-camp gone wrong”; there were patches of bright sunflowers scattered around the grounds, and we caught a glimpse of a wandering duck; images you would never associate with a prison. The accommodation the women were in could not be further from typical cells; women are housed with approximately 20 other women, with laundry facilities, kitchens, and single bedrooms that can be easily compared to University accommodation.

Overall, this visit was an extremely eye-opening insight into the prison systems from the views of the prisoners themselves. The visit was also shocking to most as Drake Hall does not at all come close to the typical prison settings that most picture. However, as Tim said to us during our visit; does locking offenders away in dingy cells with no educational opportunities work in rehabilitation?

On behalf of myself and the rest of the Level 4 Class, I would like to thank Louis, Keith, Tim and the rest of the HMP Drake Hall staff for making this opportunity safe and educational and first and foremost possible.

Work Experience Alongside Offender Management Degree

Danielle Hackett is going into her second year in the BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree. She has been volunteering at Change, Grow, Live (CGL) and has written a post for us detailing how valuable she found the practical work experience opportunities.

Jade Taylor, a former student, is regional manager for CGL and several of our BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management currently volunteer on this programme.

I am starting my second year of Criminal Justice with Offender Management in September. In my first year of the course, I decided to become a volunteer for CGL (previously SOVA). CGL is a rehabilitation charity which works with offenders and ex-offenders in and out of prison, to help them to lead positive lives. In my role I work with the offenders whilst they are in prison serving their sentence and also when they get released from prison by mentoring them. I also pick up offenders on their release dates and support them throughout their first days out, as the first day out is always the most important. I also volunteer at probation, where the ex offenders can drop in and speak to us about an problems or queries they may have and I have recently had some amazing opportunities given to myself.

The first opportunity I had was a tour around YOI (Young Offenders Institute) Brinsford in Wolverhampton. That was the first ever YOI I had visited and I was stunned to learn that there was over 100 adult males also in there, even though there were 2 adult male prisons also on the site: Featherstone and Oakwood. The tour was very interesting and insightful, I walked through the ‘first night’ cells, where one half of the offenders were quiet and the other half were loud, banging on the doors and shouting abuse. I also got shown around segregation, where there were around 10 inmates locked up for things like fighting and at least half were on an ACCT. They had an education building, where the offenders were taught how to cook and they had gardens where the inmates were building a bigger pond. There is no therapy at the prison, therefore, I believe some inmates themselves used working on the garden as some kind of therapy. On res 5, the prisoners were trusted and so they had keys for their own rooms. The prison as a whole was more old fashioned than other prisons such as Dovegate.

The second opportunity due to my volunteering role which I have landed is being offered to be key trained at one of the prisons. Every second week, I will be based in one of the prisons, where I will be meeting with the male offenders, informing them about CGL, what we do, how we can help and generally answering any questions they have. Due to that role, the prison suggested that being key trained would benefit me, this involves 5 days of training and self defence.

Without volunteering I would not have had these opportunities, it is amazing being able to put everything we learn on our course at uni, into practice.

Student Gains Paid Role After Volunteering in the Criminal Justice Sector

Kate Price, who will be going into her second year in the BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree in September, wrote a blog article for us last year about her experiences volunteering in Criminal Justice Sector. She is a proactive student and is now a paid staff member at CGL. She has written another blog post detailing the work involved and how you too can gain experience volunteering within the Criminal Justice sector, in custody and the community.

My Journey continues to grow…..

I previously wrote a blog and touched on how far I had come and what I had achieved in a short space of time, starting with applying to Staffordshire University in September 2018 after deciding I wanted to pursue my dream of working within the Criminal Justice sector both in custody and in the community, I was accepted on to the Criminal Justice with Offender Management Course to my delight and that was the beginning of fantastic things for me.

I decided to get some experience volunteering with offenders and ex-offenders through Change, Grow, Live (CGL – previously known as Sova), and after training I was given the opportunity to support service users at Probation, meet with individuals who needed support after being released from prison or fetch clients from prison on the day of their release and assist them with getting to their first probation meeting or to their home address/nearest train station, it was exactly the kind of experience I needed and it was a great insight. 8 months later I was informed that there was a job being advertised on the company website and that because I had been an active Volunteer I would be a good candidate, I was encouraged to apply for the role of Volunteer Coordinator, which I did…. And I was successful!! I am now a full time, paid staff member at CGL and I get to look after around 20 amazing Volunteers.

If you would like to become a volunteer please click on the link here and request an application pack as we are always in need, I would really like to encourage BOTH men and women to apply, we are in desperate need of some male volunteers if you know anybody that you think would like to join us please share our details.