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

ANDY LAIDLAW (HMP Liverpool)

ANDY LAIDLAW (HMP Liverpool)

AWARD WINNER 2013-14: A Custodial Manager, Andy was nominated for transforming the resettlement of offenders at HMP Liverpool. He set up and trained a network of staff to act as Community Prison Officers, forged close links with outside agencies, and developed a mentoring programme for short-term prisoners with Sefton CVS. Together, these initiatives have helped ensure a seamless, through-the-gate resettlement process, including for those serving under 12 months. (This Award is supported by Sodexo Justice Services.)

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

[Andy Laidlaw gives his account of the work for which he won his Award]

I have helped to reduce re-offending through partnership engagement by building relationships with the local community and HMP Liverpool.

I worked tirelessly to remove obstacles and overcome barriers.

If I’m asked “Why?” I reply “Why not?”

My mantra is to say “Yes” and then find a way to do it.

Be tenacious, stay focussed.

I have engaged with any partner agency or individual (whether from the public, private or voluntary sector) who had an interest in helping to reduce harm in the local community so I started with the Community Safety Partnerships (CSP’s) of Merseyside and developed a network from there. I was surprised by how many organisations wanted to work with offenders but were not sure how to go about it. There was a real obstacle communicating with the local prison (as there would be with any prison) as ‘cold calling’ a prison will usually be met with a professional but negative response.

My first task was to foster good communication between the people offering the help and those within the prison who would welcome it. This inevitably led me to network with the many Community, Voluntary & Faith Sector (CVFS) organisations in the local community.

Through the CSP’s I was able to obtain funding for courses delivered to specific prisoner groups from particular local authorities, and through the VCFS engagement we were able to invite some organisations into the prison to assist with the reducing re-offending agenda in ways that the prison could not do alone.

One of the most successful partnerships has been the Merseyside Offender Mentoring Project which offers meaningful ‘through-the-gate’ support for offenders being released from HMP Liverpool to the Merseyside area.

This partnership started when we were approached by the Civil Lead at Sefton CVS to partner in a bid for NOMS funding to start a pilot mentoring scheme working specifically with offenders. Sefton CVS, while adept at obtaining funding for many different projects in many different areas, had not worked in the Criminal Justice arena before and so they needed a credible partnership in order to inform their bid. The bid was successful in obtaining pilot funding and this is how the project got off the ground.

I acted as their ‘single point of contact’ at the prison and effectively mentored/trained the mentoring staff with regard to prison practices and cultures. I helped them to find the best way of working within the prison environment, removed blockages, helped them to build relationships, and negotiated through any resistance from existing staff.

The aim was to make a mentoring offer to all offenders being released from HMP Liverpool and in the first 12 months we made the offer to over 400 men. Re-offending rates among this cohort were very favourable (less than 20% against a national average of 56%).

The project has developed partnership working outside of the prison with Merseyside Police, Merseyside Probation and has been recognised as a model of best practice by Bettina Crossick, the NOMS mentoring lead.

It is now a well established service that has secured funding from the Lottery Fund for the next 3 to 4 years and is embedded in our resettlement processes at HMP Liverpool but has also been welcomed by Merseyside Integrated Offender Management units and the Merseyside Community Safety Partnerships.

INSPIRE ARTICLE

[The following article appeared in issue 6 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

Custodial Manager at HMP Liverpool, Andrew Laidlaw, has won a Butler Trust Award, sponsored by Sodexo, for his work in establishing a pre-release and through-the-gate mentoring scheme for short-term prisoners.

Andrew set up the Community Prison Officer (CPO) initiative from scratch, targeted at those prisoners who were receiving no statutory support and were therefore at increased risk of reoffending. He worked closely with the police, probation and the voluntary sector to ensure the right format, and personally selected, appointed and took on the training of his highly motivated team.

Each offender is now seen by a CPO who identifies any concerns prior to release and helps them access the relevant services while still in custody. ‘His creativity, determination and drive have been exemplary and he has overcome every obstacle,’ says Governor John Illingsworth.

The original remit, however, was fairly open – to engage with any agencies that could reduce reoffending. ‘And who didn’t want any money,’ laughs Andrew. ‘It was very open, yes – I was left to interpret it myself. I just explored every single avenue that seemed logical, and it grew from there. There was very little delegation available because it was an unprofiled job at the time. It was totally new, and to be honest I kind of wrote the job description as we went along initially.’

The question was ‘what do we want these staff to do for us?’ he explains. ‘That was to be the link to all the people outside, but a link that was actually based in the prison, on the wings. It was one of those things that you could author yourself, and it was a flexible role – as things didn’t work we dropped them, and as people outside asked for stuff we added that, so it was needs-led.’

The original plan was to have a CPO on every wing, but the role has had to adapt to circumstances, he says. ‘Because of changes in terms of benchmarking, managing the custodial sentence spec and various things we’ve had to adopt, the CPO role doesn’t exist the way we first set it up. The staff who did that job still do it, but some of the work has been absorbed by the Offender Management Unit.’

As the work has moved departments, Andrew has followed and is now Head of Resettlement. ‘That means all the stuff I was doing with the CPOs I’m now doing under the guise of resettlement, so we haven’t actually lost any of it. We’re still doing the work, we’ve just got some different staff, and it will just grow now because we’ve got a duty to work with all prisoners regardless of sentence length – so we’re in a prime position to enhance it. Whereas we’d had voluntary sector people working in the prison before, but always in small numbers and quite a fragmented, ad hoc way, we’re now paying for a voluntary sector coordinator to come in, who answers directly to me and who I support. They’re kind of our interpreter for the voluntary sector, because it’s obviously two completely different cultures.’

Part of the CPO remit is to engage prisoners with external support mechanisms and although many were well established, a number of new links were made, one of which led to the introduction of a prisoner mentoring scheme in partnership with Sefton Community Voluntary Service (CVS), who put in a bid to NOMS for pilot funding.

‘It took a while to get off the ground but it was so successful initially that when the pilot funding ran out they managed to get three or four years’ worth of funding from the lottery,’ he says. ‘Because we had something that worked, that was up and running, sustainable and making a difference, it was a really strong bid. And once they got that, they’re masters at getting match funding so they’re now moving from strength to strength.’

The mentors are volunteers who ‘provide a familiar face’ to men leaving custody, walk them through the gates and offer advice and support during the crucial days and weeks after release. Nearly 400 offenders have so far engaged – with the opportunity to go on to become mentors themselves – and feedback for the Merseyside Offender Mentoring Project (OMP) has been ‘fantastic’, he says. ‘The mentoring lead for NOMS has recognised it as a model of best practice, and regularly tells people from all over the country to come and look at it because it’s how things should be done.’

It’s also very highly regarded by all the partner agencies in Merseyside, he stresses. ‘Probation see it as extra support – almost like a free member of staff who’s engaging with the offenders more than their probation Offender Manager would be able to. The police are really pleased with it as well, because it means that someone who would normally be of interest to them is engaging with the project and they can channel their resources elsewhere.’

Crucially, ‘everything’s up front’, he says. ‘The project tells each mentee that they will be talking to the police and probation and everyone else, so if they disengage without a good reason it’s accepted that the mentoring project will tell the police and they’re likely to start looking at them again. That’s not viewed as grassing – it’s seen as part of the deal. The police love it – they’ve helped us with the stats and putting the information together.’

And those stats speak for themselves. For the first year the scheme was up and running, of the 450 offenders who were mentored less than 20 per cent returned to prison within a year, compared to a national average of almost 60 per cent.

‘It’s phenomenal, a two-thirds reduction on what you would expect,’ he says. ‘You get a four or five per cent reduction in reoffending and people are getting the flags out, but this absolutely knocks spots off that. It’s not that mentoring fixes everything, but it’s like the glue that binds everything together. If you have an offender who has the wherewithal, the project will support them to not go off the rails, help them access services, help them with personal problems. It’s a positive role model that they may never have had before.’

Certainly, those serving sentences of less than a year had never had anything official like this, he stresses. ‘They were just sent out the gate with their 46 quid and unless they’d accessed support in prison themselves – drug support was always quite strong – there was very little available to them.’

As the initiative has developed the focus has now moved to building relationships with other regions, he explains. ‘Merseyside was the starting point, but we’ve built links with Wigan and they’ve taken it a step further. They pay for their own prisoner officer now – he’s a Wigan liaison officer and he works in the prison, but he works for Wigan offenders and Wigan Community Safety Partnership. It’s had a really positive effect in terms of getting offenders to engage, but it’s also saving Wigan council a fortune so it’s just a win-win situation. So we’re now going to bring it back to other Merseyside boroughs and ask “do you want your own prison officer as well?” This could just grow and grow – the sky’s the limit. It’s really exciting stuff.’

So what does winning a Butler Trust Award mean to him? ‘It didn’t sink in straight away,’ he says. ‘I really, honestly didn’t expect to get anything because there was so much competition. It’s a big deal – the more I talked about it to family and friends the more I realised that I was joining a pretty elite group, which is a nice feeling. The civil service don’t particularly reward you with money – because they can’t – so to be recognised is great.’

CONTACT

For more information: contact HMP Liverpool

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