Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

ALI JOUBERT (HMP Huntercombe)

ALI JOUBERT (HMP Huntercombe)

Ali Joubert (HMP Huntercombe)

COMMENDEE 2014-15: An Instructional Officer, Ali is granted a Commendation for her enthusiasm and commitment in establishing the Gardens Department at HMP Huntercombe, and for her contribution to all aspects of prisoner development.

AliJoubertAli Joubert, an Instructional Officer at HMP Huntercombe, has been the driving force behind establishing a flourishing Gardens Department, bringing tenacity, dedication and commitment to the care and development of both the prison grounds and prisoners.

In recent years HMP Huntercombe has served several different populations. When Ali began this role in 2006, she was largely self-taught and working with a challenging population of young offenders, many of whom were suspicious of authority figures and unwilling to participate in activities. Ali’s nominator, Tony Reeve of Reducing Re-offending at HMP Huntercombe, describes how Ali developed team projects and gradually built up a rapport for “deeply disadvantaged boys” who began to “value their learning opportunities, many for the first time in their lives.”

The prison became a Category C Adult establishment in 2010, and then in 2012 again changed into its current role, as a Category C training establishment solely for Foreign National prisoners. Inevitably this challenge required considerable adaptability. Ali tackled the prison grounds, with prisoners helping to landscape and make them more productive. Wooden planters were crafted and a brick pergola seating area created, with salad gardens set up in recreational areas. A wormery was built to process kitchen waste into high quality fertiliser, and allotments used to encourage ownership and engender pride in individual’s work. Fresh seasonal produce is grown for the kitchens, with an emphasis on healthy eating.

The cumulative impact of Ali’s gardening work was marked when the prison achieved second place, in its first attempt, in the prestigious Windlesham Trophy Award for prison gardens, awarded in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society.

Ali has continued to upskill herself, gaining numerous qualifications and developing a partnership with the contracted college’s horticultural course. She mentors her students, many with low literacy levels and little understanding of English, while encouraging the more able to achieve qualifications themselves. Her approach has helped forge a more inclusive atmosphere – which is no trivial task given that the establishment holds 86 different nationalities speaking 46 languages. Both OFSTED and HMCIP reports have recognised her significant contribution, which has helped HMP Huntercombe become a Level 4 (“Exceptional Performance”) regime.

Staff and prisoners alike praise Ali’s work. Colleagues say “She’s driven”, “very proactive,” and “has the patience to work with the most challenging prisoners.” Her gift for personal interaction is also noted. “She leads her team effectively but also with heart,” said one, while another added “She uses every opportunity to develop her men, in every respect, not just gardening.

Prisoners are equally voluble in their praise. Typical comments include “Always bubbly and laughing”, “She always has time for everyone no matter what their problem”, “She is especially patient with those who don’t understand English” and, like a charming line from a song, “She turns your mood upside down and puts a smile on your face.”

Deputy Governor Martin Hatch says that “Thanks to her boundless energy, enthusiasm and commitment to developing her areas and her students, the gardens at Huntercombe are enjoyed by all.”

Ali herself commends the drive and enthusiasm of prisoners, leading to a very high level of attendance – 90% – and lots of positive feedback, enhanced self-esteem and confidence growing, like her plants, on a daily basis.

There are plans for further expansion, including more allotments, larger growing areas and a wider variety of plants. Ali is passionate about her work, and a champion of the value of gardening to both prisons and individual prisoners.


[Ali Joubert gives her account of the work for which she won her Commendation]

My name is Ali Joubert and I was granted a Butler Trust Commendation 2014-15 for establishing a flourishing gardens department at HMP Huntercombe and for the energy, enthusiasm and commitment I bring to develop prisoners “in every respect – not just gardening”.

I am employed as an Instructional Officer for the Learning and Skills department. I deliver inspiring nationally recognised qualifications in practical horticulture skills which I have been able to adapt for working with a large foreign national population. I have helped prisoners gain a qualification, enhance family ties and change their lives for the better.

This work is not achieved alone, I work as part of a multidisciplinary team in partnership with other internal and external departments, such as Milton Keynes College, OMU (Offender Management Unit), SMS (Substance Misuse Services), HOIE (Home Office Immigration Enforcement), Security, Kitchens, gymnasium, Safer Custody including attending ACCT (Assessment of Care in Custody Team) meetings, sharing information, resources and good practice.

I believe the success is directly related to the fact that I really enjoy my work and it shows. I don’t walk around at work; I skip, bounce, whistle and sing, I’ve even been referred to by a few prisoners as ‘whistler’.

I have found it is essential to get to know each prisoner; I take the time to chat, laugh, and joke with them. I very rarely find the need to ask the prisoners to do something twice and a few have even sat down in front me and cried. I give them the same respect as they give me.

As a country girl I adore the great outdoors and have no issues about getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty, I’m happy working alongside my prisoners as an equal. I have developed a wealth of knowledge from the prisoners simply by listening to them as they talk about their own lives, culture, beliefs and county traditions.

My current daily duties are to deliver qualifications and maintain the internal grounds of the establishment with the benefit of a cohort and up to 24 male prisoners all over the age of 21, from all corners of the world with a current total of 86 different nationalities speaking 46 languages.

Many of these prisoners have low literacy skills and some can barely understand or speak English, they have committed an array of offences including burglary, drug related offences, rape and murder.

I teach my prisoners practical horticulture skills, using the grounds as our classroom. I use a range of teaching methods to enable prisoners to gain a qualification at three different levels to suit their own abilities, in a safe and secure setting. This has helped them gain employment and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

I have not always worked with foreign national prisoners. HMP Huntercombe had been home to a challenging and rumbustious population of 15 – 18 year old male offenders largely from the inner-city with drug, knife and gang culture related offences. In 2010 there was a significant change; HMP Huntercombe became an Adult Category C Training Prison led by a new governor, the Governor carried a ship shape attitude and reputation to boot!

I felt the need to impress and show off some of my own life skills so I asked to enrol on a number of courses, I completed PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector), gained a Level One Diploma in Practical Horticulture Skills, a Level 3 Certificate in Assessing vocational Achievement and a Level 4 Award in the Internal Assurance of Assessment Processes and Practice. I was instrumental in HMP Huntercombe becoming an approved training centre to run City & Guilds Horticulture courses. The programmes were given direct claim status after a first impressive visit from the awarding bodies EQA (External Quality Assurance).

Supported by a group of adults prisoners who have life skills of their own (some with recognised trades), I set about creating raised beds in our poly-tunnels, built a large pergola with seats for staff and set an area up for allotments so we could grow our own seasonal produce.

Approximately 18 months after HMP Huntercombe became an Adult Category C Training Prison, news was received that the prison was to change again, this time to house Foreign National Prisoners.

Teaching foreign national prisoners has been challenging to say the least. Working with someone who finds it hard to understand what you are saying and vice versa has meant that I’ve had to adapt and become more inventive in the way I teach and mentor. A very simple way of doing this is I show by example and they copy, I also use drawings and flash cards I made with a colossal slew of hand and body gestures which quite often germinates into laughter. Different cultures have their way of doing things too, so we like to try and combine methods of gardening from other countries along with our own. Giving these men ownership of areas to manage and develop helps build vital soft skills such as decision making, team working, positivity and self-confidence.

I began to expand the allotments to other areas, starting with the gymnasium. They now have an area with a small vegetable and salad bed which slots in very nicely with part of the prisoners gymnasium course work on the topics of healthy living/eating. They care for the produce we plant and they are able to reap the produce once ripe. The next initiative was for the induction wing ‘Patterson’. The idea is welcomed and appreciated although it’s hard to police as it seems that some early birds always catch the worm leaving others open mouthed! A small private staff seating area gained a “pick your own” salad bed proving very attractive to those who found this place of sanctuary.

In 2012 we were entered into the Windlesham Trophy (best kept prison grounds) Fresher’s category for the first time; we came an extremely close second place, a score difference of only 0.03 points.

I do not set a course finish date with the prisoners so they do not feel pressured to complete work within a certain time scale, I find this allows prisoners with low levels of education time to do part time courses in numeracy, literacy and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). It has made prisoners more confident and able to accomplish other skills. Anxious prisoners have become more relaxed, withdrawn prisoners have had time to open up and learn how to engage again, while others relish in having a routine. To some this has felt like having an everyday job, where ‘you don’t feel like you’re in prison” where the results are fresh, crispy salad and vegetables grown from seed, flourishing, in colourful flower beds that sparkle in the early spring dew, like jewels in a crown, yet all is hidden from the public view.

I’ve been told by prisoners that I’m a real people person that I just seem to know how to get the best out of someone. There are two gardens teams, group one led by myself, group two led by my colleague, a prisoner not so long ago asked me “why do you always get the best workers on your team”? As I attempted to say that, “I have no choice in the matter, it’s down to the allocations department” another prisoner who has been with me for some time answered, “she doesn’t, she just knows how to get the best out of us”.

When you treat people with dignity, respect, compassion and as an individual, you get the best out of them but you, yourself have to maintain a balanced, positive, patient and consistent attitude to achieve this.

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