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.

Guest Lecture on Working with Young Offenders

Lecturers at Staffordshire University regularly invite professionals on to campus to host guest lectures and workshops, in order to to benefit students’ learning with industry-related knowledge.

Eamon O’Shaughnessy, a Senior PTRI Officer at YOI Werrington, came to talk to our students about young offenders. Ebony Brint, a Criminal Justice with Offender Management student, tells us about the lecture. 

   

Eamon visited us on the 25th of February 2019 and gave me and my other classmates a lecture on the HM YOI (Young Offenders Institute) estate and what it was like to work within a young offender’s institute. His information was very effective and helped me to understand the way that it all works, from the regime that they have to the first day in custody. He talked about his experience working in the prison estate and he gave his own personal stories on the sights that he had seen.

Eamon gave us lots of detailed information about the different categories that are in the prison estate and what each one means and he explained in great detail what certain words meant, to help [us] to understand the jargon that they use in the prison service.  He mentioned the price that we pay to keep a young person in custody a year, so is it really worth it or is better to rehabilitate them in a different way?

 

His responsibilities seemed endless, but he said it made every day interesting as no two days were the same. One of his main roles is to teach physical education to the young boys as well as being a CusP (keyworker) officer where he offers support and guidance and just being a shoulder to cry on when the boys are having a hard day.

At first, I was sceptical about this guest lecture as I had no knowledge about how a Young Offenders Institute worked until I met Eamon, then my mindset was swayed. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture and the workshop that he presented to me and my other colleagues and broadening my knowledge into the youth custody estate.

I felt that I found out everything that I needed to know and was given answers to my questions. It really has opened my eyes to the harsh reality that these young people must go through for mistakes that they made? At the end of the day they are still children! I have decided to consider working in the youth offending Estate.