I need to preface this little ditty by issuing a disclaimer:
I have a vested interest in what I am about to rant about as I specialise in Induction Into Custody for new prisoners.
That said, what I am about to pontificate on will now doubt irk some of you. As always, it is purely my opinion and I could be wrong.
To All of you that work in the prison service I say this:
There are so many wonderful organisations out there trying to assist people upon or leading up to their release from a custodial sentence. These organisations have my respect and thanks for what they are trying to achieve. I walk in the shadows of these people and their companies.
So much emphasis is put on reducing the possibility of re-offending and quite rightly so. Governmental boffins want to judge prisons on various targets / benchmarks. Amongst which are how they prepare the prisoner for release. Resettlement departments start involving themselves with the prisoner 90 days prior to his release. Companies on the outside communicate with the prisoner on what they can do to assist him/her when they walk through the gate back into society.
This is all well and good.
What I want to talk about is what are we doing to help the prisoner when he first arrives into prison?
I witnessed, in my first 48 hours in prison, the suicide of a young man who was simply lost. He was 24 years old and had never been in custody before. He had been remanded by the courts on a drink driving charge. He was given the opportunity to call his mother, as he was her primary carer and she would not know what had happened to him at court that day. Regrettably the line was busy and a staff member told him that there no other chance to try again. He told staff on his first night that he felt isolated and stressed. He was promptly told by a guard (I refuse to call this person an officer) that they would come and talk to him the next morning. The next morning arrived and he was opened up by the same guard with the phrase “So you haven’t killed yourself then?” This young lad took it upon himself to prove the guard wrong, went out on the landing and in front of me, sat down cross legged and slit his wrists. He passed away within minutes.
THIS, people! THIS is why I do what I do. I cannot in all consciousness stand idly by while people are killing themselves in our prisons. I say that if ONE person commits suicide in prison that could have been prevented; we, as a society, have a moral obligation to step in and try and prevent another.
In November of 2015 HMIP released a paper called Life In Prison - The first 24 hours and I urge all that work in the criminal justice system to take a few minutes to read it. Its findings were shocking and depressing to say the least.
Prison is a daunting experience for anyone remanded to custody. Specifically, the first 24 hours is a crucial time for prisoners and it is a time when prisoners are at their most distressed and risks of self-harm and suicide are extremely high.
I have read most of the reports from the inspectorate on both the public and private estate and I am sad to report that most if not all prisons fail on their induction process. It is just that, a process NOT an event.
I say that induction is NOT just “here’s the rules, here’s a leaflet; there you go” It is an event that needs to last over 6 – 8 weeks. Constant monitoring of the new arrival is a must not only to tick the boxes but to possibly save a life.
If your establishment gives a half-hearted Induction program then woe betide you when you have the worst result possible; that of a man taking his own life out of desperation.
It is my opinion that there are two very crucial times in a prisoner’s time in custody; when they leave (without a doubt) but certainly when they arrive.
Induction is there NOT to make the person a better prisoner but I believe it is there to start him on the road to be a better person.
It is not there just for those convicted by the courts, it is there for all remanded into custody. This therefore, is where the argument of spending time with those at the end of their sentence being more important falls on its head. Many of those remanded are released or bailed. If you miss these people at the front end then you miss them altogether. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have heard “We can’t help you, you are a remand!” Utter tripe!
Last year there were 119 suicides in our prisons, that is 1 EVERY 3.06 days! There were over 36,000 reported incidents of self-harm. Statistics show us that the majority of suicides in prison happen during the first 90 days of custody with the PPO stating that during their report covering 2007 – 2013 over 10% of suicides happened within the first 3 days.
Now I am no rocket scientist but even I can disseminate from these figures that more has to be done to ensure the safety and well-being of our citizens when they first arrive into custody.
So, I have to ask; WHY. Why isn’t it being done? It isn’t a budgetary issue as it costs nothing to ensure that a person is treated and cared for in a humane way. The prisons have the staff dedicated to their Early Days regime. Is it because the staff aren’t trained properly in how to deal with those who are new to custody? Is it because the management feel that resources are better spread to those at the end of their sentence? I say if that is the case, then if you don’t start to change your ways then you won’t have the prisoners alive at the end of their sentence with which to expend your resources.
These are basics, people, just basics. Train your staff to recognise the 13 triggers that can show you a vulnerable prisoner (pop quiz ; what are the 13 triggers? Don’t cheat, I will give you the answer at the end). Don’t just train the reception staff to recognise these, train all your staff. You have men/women under your and ALL of your staff’s care. Shouldn’t they all know what to look for?
Use the men/women in your custody to help you, train them as peer mentors. Train them to help their fellow prisoners and you will reap the rewards. Prisoners will always talk to fellow prisoners before they talk to staff. I am the living example of this.
Cover all the subjects mandated in the PSI (Early Days in Custody). That’s right all 24 of them. Ensure that prisoners are settled into their accommodation as quick as possible. Don’t have them hanging around reception for hours on end. Make sure that they can call home or at least that their families know where they are. Make sure they have a chance to wash. They could have been sitting in a court all day.
Does all of this sound basic? Well it is. But I am distressed to read in the inspectorate’s reports just how many of our country’s prisons do not carry out these elementary tasks.
Please, I ask you don’t let this continue. If you work in a prison, a member of staff, a member of management or a civilian worker, ask your prison about their induction procedures and do they feel that they could do better? If they think they could then I beg of you; get them to do it
Remember it’s not about it’s not about ticking boxes; it’s about saving lives.
PS: The answer to the pop quiz is :
First time in Custody Change of Status Violent Offences Primary Carers
Hist of Self-Harm Potential Cat A Potential Life Mental Health
Drug Dependent Deportee Asylum Seekers Remand Recall