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The launch of the Prisoner Policy Network at HMP Grendon

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The launch of the Prisoner Policy Network at HMP Grendon

23 July 2018

I recently visited HMP Grendon to attend the launch of the Prisoner Policy Network organised by the Prison Reform Trust. The network aims to bring people with lived expertise of imprisonment together to provide insight into national policy issues that are currently being discussed. Prisoners and ex-offenders can share their views by email, phone or post. Once all the submissions have been collated, the report will be sent to government department officials and key decision makers.

The first policy question up for debate is ‘What incentives work in prison?’ This question was posed at the event to a panel made up of former prisoners and further discussed by participants in small groups.

The subsequent debate highlighted that allowing prisoners to share their views may initially be perceived by some as a threat – empowered prisoners equals danger. The other side of the equation was - what happens if we don’t give prisoners a voice. The reality is prisoner feedback represents a massive opportunity to promote positive change. More often than not prisoners are the people who have the solutions to the issues affecting them.  A participant commented ‘This is about evolution not revolution’

There was also a feeling that policy makers are currently too detached from the realities of prison life so there is a real need to encourage a dialogue around what actually works. One participant commented that the best way to achieve lasting change involves co-design – not only listening to the views of prisoners but also enabling them to actively working together with staff to solve common problems. One example of this involved attaching prisoners to staff in charge of functional departments so that they could act as advisors. 

Other themes emerged around how prisoners felt about being in custody. They wanted to be treated like human beings, to find ways to engage with their families and to plan for work and life outside prison.

Other comments on the nature of incentives included the need to:

  • Focus on the carrot not the stick – incentives shouldn’t be used as a privilege to be taken away and used as punishment
  • Ensure more clarity and transparency about release criteria. One ex offender spoke about how she had felt the goal posts were constantly moving when she was due for release.
  • Ensure that incentives were not muddled up with basic needs
  • Enable prisoners to take ownership of their environment
  • Base incentives around future goals not just compliance with the regime
  • Ensure consistency and transparency when implementing incentives

Other themes emerged around how prisoners felt about being in custody. They wanted to be treated like human beings, to find ways to engage with their families and to plan for work and life outside prison. People were keen to ensure that every prisoner’s voice should be heard and that prisoner involvement should encourage trust between prisoners and staff and avoid being tokenistic.

Watching the panel talk so eloquently about their experiences and the amazing work they were now doing made me realise the value of a second chance. All of these people had served long prison sentences but had taken the opportunity to escape the barriers to employment and stigma that so many ex-prisoners still face. Now these people were changing lives and preventing others from making the same mistakes. Together they represented a valuable resource that could have potentially been wasted.

If you would like to learn more about the prisoner policy network please contact them at ppn@prisonreformtrust.org.uk