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

ANN DONNELLON (HMP & YOI Preston)

ANN DONNELLON (HMP & YOI Preston)

COMMENDEE 2021-22: Ann is Commended for her professionalism, compassion, and dedication as an Officer and Custodial Manager at HMP/YOI Preston, and in particular for her outstanding and transformational leadership of her wing during the Covid pandemic.

‘Absolute dedication, each and every day’

Ann’s Line Manager Kirsten Heys, takes up Ann’s story:

“Ann has worked in our most high-risk areas of Safer Custody and the First Night Centre, gaining recognition for her best practice. After becoming an Offender Supervisor, Ann was highlighted for the in-depth work and compassion she displayed working with very complex cases. Ann’s recent work as a Residential Custodial Manager during Covid, and the impact this has had on both staff and prisoners, has been invaluable.

“On taking over D Wing, Ann inherited disengaged experienced staff and a majority of brand new POELTs. This, coupled with a period of instability on the wing and a difficult population, was proving a toxic combination. By investing time and effort in both the staff and prisoners on the wing, not only has she successfully developed a high performing inclusive team, but she has also gained the respect of the prisoners. Her staff have pride in their work and are all fully engaged in our values here at Preston.

“This work ethic continues when Ann is not in or when they are cross deployed to other areas. Ann has created an environment based on trust, compassion and a real ‘can do’ attitude. More experienced staff are re-energised and new staff feel comfortable expressing themselves in their roles and finding their own identity.

“Ann continues to challenge them and rotates roles on the wing to enable staff to learn and become more competent, in turn improving staff confidence and allowing for a greater relationship with prisoners and their management on the unit and beyond.

“Despite Covid creating a number of challenges for the staff and prisoners, Ann continued to have one-to-ones with her staff, assisting in support and development and giving feedback on performance, while ensuring prisoners were managed appropriately and decently.

“She has managed some of our most complex staff sickness cases – always following the process but remaining compassionate and supportive. A lot of this has been done in her own time and she has been instrumental in getting people either back to work or supporting them.

“I’m nominating her to recognise her absolute dedication to improving outcomes for staff and prisoners each and every day.”

Reinforcing Kirsten’s words, Custodial Manager Kev Nield adds: “There is a saying; ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that matters.’ But in a time when staff retention rates are significantly under target, the development and support of prison staff at the start – and throughout – is what really matters. What Ann does for others really matters.” Prison Officer Entry Level Trainee (POELT) James Lever praises Ann for helping him “and many others, taking on extra work for herself to ensure that, despite COVID, one-to-one sessions were held providing us all with the essential knowledge and confidence to do our jobs.”

Officer Jake O’Byrne says “Ann is always putting us before herself, we often have to remind her to go home.” Supervising Officer Roxanne Wain thinks “because Ann worked through the ranks she remembers how difficult it can be joining the Prison Service. Ann took time to put an information pack together of everything that they would need to know to be a Residential Officer, now developed into ‘the POELT Passport’,” adding “you can guarantee if you are having a bad day you will be called into her office for a brew and a biscuit.”

‘Dan’, a prisoner, wanted to share this: “I decided that I wanted to work alongside young offenders and mentor them. Mrs. Donnellon pushed me to develop myself by working with a young offender, and I have now progressed to a buddy support role. Without Mrs. Donnellon’s help I could not have done this.”

Another POELT, Rob Green, notes Ann “takes the time” to help people reach “their full potential”, while Officer Suzie Stansfield says, not unreasonably, that “no award could cover all that Ann is – caring, compassionate, inspirational.” Governor Stephen Lawrence, too, had very warm words:

“Ann is a fantastic people person. If one of my children was sent to prison, Ann is just the sort of person I would want around to care for them. My daughter is a member of staff at another prison and Ann is the sort of manager I wanted to support and develop her.

“Ann is not a soft touch. She is always very honest with staff and prisoners and she often tells them things they may not want to hear, but they need to hear it. On the other hand she is fiercely loyal and once she is in someone’s corner she will fight their case with passion and great energy.”

Those words from the Governor would normally be a good ending to this piece, but in this case, Ann’s own words are uniquely useful, given quite how often something like these circumstances are playing out across the Estate.

So here, then, is her unedited account, describing exactly how she set about doing the work that led to winning her Commendation, offered for anyone who thinks it might have value within their own establishment:

First moving onto D wing, I was told it was a problematic wing in respect of disengaging staff, a large number of POELTs and a difficult prisoner population. I could initially see that things didn’t feel right on the unit, so decided to observe the wing for a few of weeks making my own observations on how staff worked with each other, how staff engaged with prisoners and how prisoners engaged with staff.

During my observations I found inexperienced staff not being supported by experienced staff and the latter complaining that the new staff were simply not up to the job. It was clear to see that while the staff were not supporting each other, this also meant they were not holding meaningful conversations with prisoners, promising prisoners they would deal with queries then not following them up, leaving jobs for other staff to complete.

With this came a frustrated prisoner population feeling not listened to or cared for, with a similarly frustrated staff group. To address this issue, I held a staff briefing and a prisoner forum and told both groups exactly what I’d seen. At these meetings I let them have their say and informed them of how I would like to go forward and improve the current climate with their cooperation and input. This initially was met with some resistance, so alongside this, I held one-to-ones with the staff to get to know them and listen to any issues they raised.

Prior to these one-to-ones, I gave the staff a skills assessment, and asked that they be brutally honest with themselves around any skills gaps or areas of weakness they felt they had. Coupled with this, I could identify any area of strengths or talent which I could then use to support other staff, and work areas of the wing that needed addressing. In these one-to-ones I found that staff historically didn’t feel supported. On the conclusion of the one-to-ones I developed a knowledge pack for all my staff as a guide to support them and strengthen their knowledge in key areas. This was also to assist them as they would regularly find themselves in charge of the daily running of the wing.

This investment in my staff, gradually, over time, meant that I could build on their areas of concern and develop their confidence to deliver a safe and decent environment and encourage working as a team. I approached experienced staff within the prison to assist in mentoring the new or unconfident members of my team.

I used my knowledge of different experienced staff and their interests and paired them with my staff I knew who would be receptive to support from them. This then enabled relationships encouraging support and development.

On the outcome of the prisoner forums, I acted on the issues they raised by developing a Welcome Pack to my wing, informing them of the regime, laundry days, visits, and the names of all the staff members, the PIDS representative, Listeners, etc. This, coupled with identifying staff responsible for developing themselves, whilst improving areas within the wing, began improving life on the unit for all.

I have actively encouraged the staff to speak with prisoners to get to know them using the Keyworker prompts, especially whilst in the Covid regime, as there have been less prisoners out at any one time – allowing an opportunity for meaningful engagement on the unit.

I meet with all prisoners who move onto the Wing to allow me to hear what they can expect from the Wing and staff in regards to the restrictions or support being offered to them. I am very passionate in this area as I am a believer in procedural justice. I allow staff and prisoners to have a voice at the regular staff meetings and prisoner forums.

The last 2 years have been extremely challenging and rewarding in equal measure. The work we’ve all undertaken on the unit has been hard, and there have been many days when I have wondered whether it would work. However, it’s clear to me that we have managed to develop a team mentality where staff look out for, and support, others to develop and create the best environment we can to keep prisoners safe and cared for in a decent way.

As a result, staff and prisoner relationships have improved incredibly and a reduction in violent incidents, bullying and self-harm has been seen. Staff are happy and confident in the work they do.

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