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COMMENDEE 2011-12: SO Sumpter is commended for his contribution, as head of the Reintegration Unit, to the management and care of prisoners at HMP Preston with especially challenging behaviours.


[Clive Sumpter gives his account of the work for which he was awarded a Commendation]

I received my Butler Trust commendation for offering an alternative option for violent and challenging prisoners to deal with their frustrations and anxieties. Offering a Solution Focused approach to their issues rather than a problem orientated reaction to resolution.  This has led to a reduction in Prisoner/Staff assaults and self harm.

I currently work as the manager of a Reintegration Unit within HMP Preston. The unit was originally set up to deal with prisoners who found being in prison difficult. This could be any anxiety from someone who is a first time prisoner up to and including prisoners with long term mental health problems or those with deep rooted personality disorders. The Unit offers an alternative to problem centred reactionary interventions and is designed to work in a solution focused way to show prisoners that there is an alternative way of channelling any anxiety and aggression into helping them to find a positive outcome from their previous way of dealing with matters.

Professionally my background is in Mental Health, but I am also a trained Prison Senior Officer and this dual training is why I was asked to manage the Unit. I have a Bsc in Mental Health and I also hold a University Diploma in Solution Focused Brief Therapy.

In my 32 years as a Prison Nursing Officer I have dealt with many difficult and challenging offenders and have always felt that offering a closed reaction to problematic behaviour such as “I want you to behave” is very difficult to maintain with troublesome prisoners who may or may be living with long held beliefs and schemas that make them react to confrontation in the only way they know how.

In 2009 I was asked to become the manager of a prison Reintegration Unit which had originally been set up by a Psychologist some 18 months earlier to deal with prisoners who could not manage with being in prison. I was asked to manage the Unit due to holding a dual role of Prison Senior Officer and Registered Mental Health

Nurse. I felt that this would be a challenging role and one that would offer me the chance to put into practice interventions within a Cognitive style that I had been studying at University. I was able to interview staff who wanted to work on the Unit and originally picked 8 staff who I felt would have the capabilities to make the changes that I was advocating. However I was also careful to gauge other abilities in being not just able to talk and communicate well but also able to maintain discipline and deal with every situation no matter how it arose.

Solution Focused approaches have long been offered as an alternative to problem centred approaches in that people perceive that someone who behaves badly must have a problem that they are struggling to deal with. Problems such as childhood difficulties, attachment disorders, and long held personality problems are very difficult to treat and can take many months of therapy and counselling.

Solution Focused Brief therapy is just that – a brief therapy offering no more than 6/8 sessions of an alternative approach, in that people are asked to envisage what they want in the future and where they would like to be, instead of where they are. They are invited to develop a preferred future rather than more of the same behaviour and the problem centred reactions that they have experienced for years.

I have used this approach in my work with prisoners, however I have also used this approach with the staff I manage as I believe our unit is as successful as it is because the 8 prison officers I have working for me have also worked to change  their approach to prisoners. Every prisoner has a chance to express their wants and hopes rather than just having to “tow the party line” they are positively encouraged to work and become involved in prison life whilst maintaining a living area that is quiet and will act as a “bolt hole” if needed. This could be for many reasons such as anxiety, paranoia, anger or threat.

During the research conducted by our Butler Trust Chairperson at HMP Preston into my role and that of the Unit it was found that Self Harm, Prisoner on Prisoner and Prisoner on Staff assaults had reduced by around one third. This could be for any number of reasons, however it was clear that the approach of the unit was effective in showing prisoners that there is an alternative way rather than the previous reaction they have had before. This was evident in the type of prisoner we housed on the Unit as we housed those prisoners who had been troublesome and difficult to maintain within HMP Preston and our surrounding prisons. Prisoners who had been charged with staff assaults and prisoner assaults were actively encouraged to consider being housed on the Unit and myself and staff would deal with any problem that arose “in house” without always going down on the Governors Report, or using the IEP system and dealing with those problems in a solution focused way rather than a problem orientated reactionary way.

During the recent HMCIP visit to HMP Preston the Reintegration Unit was held up as one of only two areas that received an “Example of Best Practice” rating. The Unit also recently received praise from the Prison Minister Crispin Blunt during a visit to HMP Preston for its approach and commitment.


[The following article appeared in issue 4 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

Head of HMP Preston’s reintegration unit, Clive Sumpter has been commended for his contribution to the care and management of prisoners with especially challenging behaviours. The unit has an ethos of providing a constructive, supportive and tailored approach to offenders with a history of violence and problematic behaviour, with each member of the team mentored by Clive to equip them to provide a high level of support to offenders struggling with prison life. There has been a noticeable reduction in rates of violence and self-harm as a result, say the prison authorities.

For more information: contact HMP Preston

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