An interview with Deb – Recovery Culture Implementation Lead
Tell us about the peer mentoring scheme you developed across the north east prisons in your previous role
Prior to working in the substance misuse field full time, I was a volunteer in a community drug and alcohol peer mentoring service. Later, while working as a recovery coordinator in a prison service I was given the opportunity to implement a peer mentoring provision for the north east prison services. I knew that this was the direction for me as I am very passionate about service user involvement. I knew that the project would support the recovery culture within the prison sites and bring something special to the north east.
I was asked by the service manager to initially implement the peer mentoring provision in HMP Frankland, a High Secure Estate (category A prison). I was determined to make it work there, as I knew it could then work in all the other prison sites and provide the service with a platform for excellence in service delivery.
I met with HMP Frankland’s Governors and discussed the benefits of working alongside prisoners to support their recovery journey, promoting rehabilitation and supporting resettlement among new prison inductees. I worked closely with the establishment to ensure we were meeting security and prison requirements for the peer mentoring service to be effective and safe. I informed the establishment that the service had created procedures, policies and documentation to recruit prisoners as peer support. Once I put formal recruitment in place, the establishment was 100% in support of the scheme.
So in Frankland I recruited mentors to be located on every single wing. I agreed with the establishment that mentors would be involved with all elements of service delivery. Anything that a member of staff would do, they could do too. This would include the co-delivery of groups and programmes, recruiting new mentors, training, focus groups and delivering staff awareness events. Once all parties were happy, I implemented this across our other six north east prisons.
Now all new prisoners with drug or alcohol issues see a member of the drug and alcohol recovery team (DART) service, alongside a peer mentor, as soon as they arrive. All prisoners in all 7 north east prison sites are then provided with ongoing support from the mentors.
How are you empowering service users through peer mentoring?
I support and empower mentors by ensuring they are involved with all aspects of drug and alcohol service delivery in all seven north east prisons. For example, I have included peer mentors in drug strategy and equality and race relation meetings and I have included DART service users in reviews of the service provision via the DART focus groups and service feedback.
The mentors support the recovery agenda as they bring their own life experiences and are the ‘voice’ of the prison population. Service users also complete staff/mentor observations and they are involved in service developments. This provides the service with a 360 review process looking at staff strengths and recommendations. I say ‘tell me what I can do better and how I can improve, you’re the ones living here and you are the experts!’
How have you been responding to Spice use in the prisons?
When Spice became more prevalent in the north east sites, I provided mentors with information and training to enable them to educate the prison population. I also supported them with their group delivery skills. The peer mentors then delivered a training package to the prisoners and the prison officers in each wing. If a prisoner is tempted to use spice or they are struggling to stop, they will engage with DART staff and get access to additional support from a peer mentor.
How are you promoting health and wellbeing among service users?
While working at HMP Frankland, I collaborated with the service users and DART peer mentors to identify ways to improve prisoners’ health. The mentors suggested that service users would benefit from incentives for getting into recovery, and they came up with the idea of using gym time as a reward. Now the DART team and the gym team work together.
If a service user tests negative for drugs they can access extra gym sessions. Going to the gym is a massive reward in prison. If you use drugs you lose all your privileges, so this is a great incentive to walk away from drugs. It also helps the men to build up their confidence and improve their self-worth. It supports their emotional health too.
How are you responding to the ageing prison population?
I was tasked with looking at how we can better support the older population, working with prison staff to identify the needs and support required. I then sourced community agencies that could provide education and support to this older population. I invited staff from the Alzheimer’s Society into HMP Frankland to deliver awareness training to the peer mentors. After this training the peer mentors became dementia champions, which allowed them to deliver dementia awareness training to other prisoners across the full population. Service users then fed back the information to their family members and their peers in the community.