The voluntary sector provides essential services to all of our communities including the prison community, assisting the smooth running of prisons and resettlement of prisoners across the UK. In this guest blog Marie Waterman, the Voluntary Sector Co-ordinator at HMP Guys Marsh, highlights the benefit to the prison of her role in bringing those services together and supporting their day to day work.
Having a dedicated role to co-ordinate the existing voluntary sector organisations at HMP Guys Marsh is having a considerable impact.
My role is part of the Clinks Good Prison project which works across three prisons in the South West: HMPs Dartmoor, Exeter and Guys Marsh. As the manager of the Volunteer Centre for Dorset and running a prisoner volunteering project at HMP Guys Marsh, I was well placed to pick up this part-time role for the year-long pilot and it fitted naturally with how Volunteer Centres create links and networks in their communities.
Despite the challenges that prisons and voluntary organisations currently face, HMP Guys Marsh is progressing with their strategy to develop stronger links with the voluntary sector and the local community. They are looking to the sector to support their aims and support prisoners to improve their lives. I am lucky to be working in the prison at a time where innovation is welcomed and new initiatives are being implemented. It compliments how the sector operates, survives and delivers, due to its innovation and flexibility.
Since HMP Guys Marsh took up this opportunity in September 2016, it has led to true partnership approaches to resettlement.
5 ways in which HMP Guys Marsh is benefiting from having a voluntary sector co-ordinator
1. A dialogue with the sector
The Network Forum provides a supportive and informed space in which the prison and voluntary organisations can have a formal dialogue and develop a joined up approach to their work. We have had four forums already for the voluntary sector, key providers, prisoner reps and the prison’s senior management team—who are fully engaged in the forums. We meet to:
- Consult on and discuss the internal processes that the project is developing
- Allow the voluntary organisations to raise any questions to the prison
- Enable the prison to share key information affecting prisoners and providers
- Provide mini training sessions on subjects such as safer custody awareness.
2. Information about available support
The voluntary sector comes into the prison through various routes. A key part of my work is ensuring that the different organisations, prison, prisoners and visitors, all know who is coming in, what support the voluntary sector can provide and when they can provide it. We now have dedicated information boards in the visits area promoting services, I am compiling a directory of services for use by prisoners, their visitors and staff and I am regularly able to give presentations to full staff meetings and briefings to different areas of the prison. This ensures that the role and value of the sector remains visible and information is more easily accessible.
3. Capturing prisoner voice
One of my key aims is to ensure the voices of prisoners are captured. This helps us meet their needs and provides them with an opportunity to shape the project. I have worked with other stakeholders in the prison to identify and recruit prisoner volunteers to attend the Network Forums. They link with other prisoner reps across HMP Guys Marsh to help ensure voluntary sector news and information is cascaded to all prisoners. Prisoners have completed a survey about their awareness of the sector and it also highlighted potential gaps in services. They have helped distribute the questionnaires, fed into the Directory of Services design and we are now developing a clear prisoner role description.
4. Bringing the sector into strategic focus
Having the support of the senior management team has led to improved links with various departments across the prison. I have been able to attend partnership meetings, reducing reoffending meetings and linked in with the Community Rehabilitation Company, Chaplaincy, Offender Managers and Education, amongst others. This means that I am not only able to provide the sector with a good overview of the strategic direction of the prison and its key stakeholders, but the sector is better linked into areas of specialism and the overarching strategic aims of the prison. With a wealth of additional knowledge from beyond the prison walls, the sector can feed in knowledge that can help the prison support and resettle prisoners.
5. A single point of contact
As a single point of contact in the prison for the sector, providers can now contact me with queries, and we can more easily link with projects working on the periphery of the prison. The prison now has someone with an overview of organisations and other stakeholders working there—I have definitely learnt that communication is key to everything in prisons! This is a great opportunity from which to grow and further embed the sectors’ work in the prison.
The quick pace of the project and our early successes mean that we are already discussing the future of the role of co-ordinator and the need to continue to support the network beyond this pilot.
“When we heard about the pilot project, we were really keen to be involved. The voluntary sector is so important in developing, delivering and supporting opportunities for our men and we wanted to work more closely with those partners to enhance those relationships and develop services further. To date there has been much to celebrate in the project including much more regular liaison between the voluntary sector and the prison and the development of a Directory of Services for staff and prisoners. People who are keen to work towards a common goal are being brought together and developing an enhanced understanding of each other’s roles. I am excited by the plans that are in place for the rest of the pilot, including the consideration around how we sustain the positive changes following the pilot”. - Becky Dixon, Head of Reducing Reoffending, HMP Guys Marsh
What is apparent from my work to date is the common thread of all of us wanting to make a difference, whether it’s the voluntary sector or the prison. The last six months has shown me that there is still so much enthusiasm and commitment from the sector to contribute towards improving people’s lives, share ideas and to work together with the prison through the project, to make a positive impact. Having a dedicated and skilled voluntary sector co-ordinator to help drive this vision is a huge benefit to any prison.