Amanda Sherriff from EDP is the Voluntary Sector Co-ordinator for Clinks’ Good Prison Project at HMP Dartmoor and HMP Exeter. Here she shares five ways she has put service user engagement at the heart of her work at HMP Dartmoor.
One year ago today I was sat at my desk in the substance misuse department in HMP Dartmoor and an email popped in with the subject line “Good Prison project – local.” The more I read about the role co-ordinating links between the prison and voluntary sector organisations, the more excited I became. “This is the opportunity for me!” I thought, and so the journey began. I am also very passionate about service user involvement, so I wanted to ensure my role in promoting and enabling access to the voluntary sector was shaped by the prisoners themselves. So here is how I work with prisoners in their representative, orderly and mentoring roles, to develop my work.
I manage the regular Outside In events at the prison, to enable voluntary sector projects to promote their services to those in custody and raise awareness amongst staff. Prisoners have been central to the planning and running of the day:
1. The wing representatives are essential in advertising the event. They approach all of the prisoners who work in wing-based jobs such as cleaners, painters and Insiders and are able to promote the event in a way which I can’t—talking to everyone, encouraging and motivating others to attend. Without them many of the prisoners would miss the opportunity of going to Outside In.
2 The gym orderlies act as excellent hosts for the day, talking to our guests, making teas and coffees and generally helping out. I cannot speak highly enough of their help. They even help me find and carry tables both before and after the event. Their welcoming of the external visitors to the day does a lot to change people’s view of what a prisoner is “like”.
3. I have been supporting some of the prisoners to produce “The Rough Guide to Dartmoor” for their peers. A recent Outside In event was the ideal place to collate views on the first draft, given the large amount of prisoners expected to attend. A focus group presented the first draft and had one of the most popular stands of the day. They received a great deal of positive feedback and useful suggestions that they were able to use to push the project further.
4. There are many mentors on the different stalls and prisoners talking about their journey, encouraging others to engage in the support on offer. Notable examples include a mentor from mental health support, who showed all the wonderful items that had been made in the mental health craft groups. There was a substance misuse service orderly who, although initially shy, was able to overcome this and talk to other prisoners and organisations about the service. Also, a mentor promoted Distance Learning and signed up 10 prisoners on the day.
5. The education mentors collect feedback on the events from the prisoners through the day and encourage them to engage and share their views. This means we are able to get a good picture of how the prisoners feel the day went and how useful it has been, which we can use for the next Outside In events.
Through the promotional work and planned prisoner involvement, over 80% of prisoners at HMP Dartmoor came to see us at the first Inside Out. The energy in the room was incredible, with a real hubbub of excited talking and interest in the services. Trying on the Beer Goggles provided by Drink Wise Age Well was a particular highlight!
I could not have done it without involving the prisoners themselves. Here’s some of their feedback:
“I felt like a 'normal person' for the day, having everyday conversations.”
“It has given me more confidence for my release.”
“It’s incredible how well our [Rough Guide] project was received by everyone—it’s also given us loads of ideas.”
I have also been collating prisoner views on the newly updated prison induction pack which I have been working on.
You don’t have to wait for a service user forum or a focus group, there are many ways we can involve and engage the people we work with……what can you do? Please share your ideas in the comments.
You can contact Amanda on firstname.lastname@example.org
You can join Clinks’ service user involvement managers’ network to share your ideas and learn from others.