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Time Well Spent: Creating a Rehabilitative Culture in Women’s Prisons
02/06/2017 16:23:00 by Zoey

Time Well Spent: Creating a Rehabilitative Culture in Women’s Prisons

The Prison Reform Trust’s Active Citizens programme seeks to promote opportunities for prisoners to take on responsibility, engage in constructive work, and contribute to the life of the prison community.

The format is simple: the Prison Governor identifies a ‘problem’ for a working group of prisoners to work through and address, with facilitation from Prison Reform Trust staff.

Back in February, my colleague and I were set a task from a Governor at a women’s prison, to run four working groups with ten women to assess ‘how they can make the prison a community’. This was chosen as the Governor and his team recognised that to improve prison conditions, you must involve the people living in them.

Here’s what I learnt from the project:

  • Respect: The main concerns that arose from these first conversations were the perceived lack of respect and reduced responsibility the women faced compared to other women’s prisons they had been in. They felt “being treated like children” made it harder for them to get on with the prison regime and make a positive life-change by being there. Without the prison showing trust by allowing women to move from one building to another for appointments, work, or healthcare it was getting the way of a community. Being distrusted makes you feel worse about yourself and knocks confidence, it's the sweeping assumption that "all prisoners are bad".
  • Togetherness: The women discussed the aspects of their prison life that had positive characteristics, such as receiving respect for their role as a Listener, or getting support from friends, they find safety when they are alone in their rooms, and togetherness when they are at work. The women felt the Governor set a really good example for the prison: “the Governor is very supportive… there is respect. If every staff member was as caring as him, this prison would be a community”
  • Community: Raising these problems allowed the women to become very clear on what they wanted any community to be, and this was: support; togetherness; safety and peace; humility; and respect. Having a safe and supportive community based on trust in the officers and peers is so important. The recommendations the women came up for were not self-centred causes, they wanted to do what was best for all the women in the prison and wanted this time spent inside to be productive and fruitful for when they return to their families and their local community.
  • Skills and Employability: The women wanted to better their skills and employability. A suggestion was for peer-led classes to tap into the skills that the women in the prison have, this would bring together the women and allow them to develop new skills they wouldn’t normally have opportunity to do, as well as building confidence and having something to learn. The women also wanted more businesses to come into the prison for wider employment opportunities, to develop qualifications and to have the option for jobs waiting for them when they return home. 
  •  Positive relationships: The women stressed that more importance needed to be placed on outside relationships, and wanted to have ‘partner days’ where they could meet their loved ones in a more relaxed setting as well as giving them the opportunity to meet with their offender managers and other senior staff.

At a time when self-harm incidents and self-inflicted deaths are rising across the prison estate, these recommendations could go a long way in helping women feel safe, respected, and supportive in the prison community.