Liz Ropschitz, Recoop’s Buddy Training Manager explains how prison Buddies have stepped up during the Covid-19 pandemic – working closely with health care and wing officers to support the most vulnerable prisoners.
As soon as the nation went into lockdown we began to hear of the excellent work happening in our communities. We heard shout-outs to all the heroes, who in their ways, both great and small, have come up trumps to help neighbours, friends and families in need. We applauded all those making PPE and volunteering their help during this time of crisis and of course the emergency services and NHS, all of whom we want to save and show our support for.
Less heard of though, are the heroes in our prisons, including prisoners themselves who are pulling together to make prison a caring community, working alongside wing officers, health and social care staff and on the front line supporting shielded prisoners who are at risk of death should they catch Covid-19.
These unsung heroes are called 'Buddies'.
Pre-Covid-19, the role of the Recoop Buddy was very well established throughout six prisons, with up to 50 prisoners receiving daily buddy support in each following local authority assessment and care planning. Further rollout is being discussed with a number of prisons and local authority commissioners.
Recoop first started training Buddies in 2009, expanding the training as need was identified. Buddies continue to be trained by Recoop to National Care Certificate Standards to support fellow prisoners with the day-to-day challenges they face within an often difficult environment. The training now extends through to palliative care and end-of-life care as dying in prison became a reality for more individuals.
On the outbreak of the pandemic, Buddies stepped up to the plate (albeit a blue plastic one) and have worked tirelessly, 7 days a week, supporting the most vulnerable prisoners. With extra training in the correct health and safety use of PPE when working with shielded individuals, delivered by Prison Care UK NHS staff, they have become closer working team members with health care and wing officers. This partnership has really come into its own with staff and prisoners working side by side and all parties expressing appreciation of the other.
The HMP Dartmoor prison custodial manager wrote:
“I consider the Buddies to be vital to the work we do. I simply cannot begin to imagine how we would cope without them. This is true even more so during the difficult times we currently face.
The Buddies team works alongside the staff on the establishment’s 'shielding' unit for our most vulnerable men. The way in which they have all risen to the challenge is remarkable; they care for others from the moment they are unlocked in the morning until the time they return to their cells for the night. They show patience, compassion and selflessness when looking after those in their care. It is a credit to the training they receive that they are equipped to carry out this challenging work to such a consistently high standard.”
The prison’s head of healthcare agreed, saying:
“The role of the Buddy is crucial, not only for practical support, but for social interaction, health and wellbeing. The Buddies have real insight into the care needs of their clients from a holistic sense and understand the impact extended time in the cell would have on their well-being. Collaborative working with key stakeholders has supported the success of the shielding unit.”
I know that I for one thought of HMP Dartmoor Buddies along with prison officers and prison healthcare staff when clapping on a Thursday night for all essential and front line workers.
But we are not out of the woods yet - there are new difficulties and problems ahead. Whilst the strict lockdown measures have been successful in controlling the virus in this high-risk home to many vulnerable people, Recoop is concerned that being locked up in lockdown has hit hard. Particularly hard hit are those many prisoners who already suffer from poorer mental and physical health. We have yet to see how the long periods of solitary confinement has contributed to a further deterioration in their health. As movements are severely restricted and visits, workshops and education are still on hold, the longer term consequences are yet to be realised.
We do know that there will be demand for additional support and hope that similar formalised peer-led support models are introduced in far more prisons. What better way to empower individuals to learn new skills, find their inner compassion and give something back to aid those in need in prisons.
Header photo: © Andrew Aitchison
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We are extremely disappointed that the JCVI advice on phase 2 of the COVID vaccination programme does not prioritise people in prison and those who work with them, including voluntary sector staff and volunteers https://gov.uk/government/publications/priority-groups-for-phase-2-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-programme-advice-from-the-jcvi/jcvi-interim-statement-on-phase-2-of-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme