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

EMMA CHARALAMBOUS (HMP & YOI Bronzefield)

EMMA CHARALAMBOUS (HMP & YOI Bronzefield)

Emma Charalambous

COMMENDEE 2018-19: Emma is an Offender Supervisor at HMP & YOI Bronzefield. She receives a Commendation for the quality and humanity of her work with the women of Bronzefield, and for her dedication and passion in helping to promote a restorative justice culture across the prison.

Initial Nominator, and Bronzefield’s Deputy Director, Vicky Robinson says ‘Emma is adept at understanding the women in a way that cuts beyond their offending behaviour to dig through to the criminogenic and other emotional factors that underpin their offending and emotional stability.’ She gave several examples, including ‘Caroline’*:

‘…a long-standing victim of domestic violence that she had never reported. [She] had deep rooted mistrust of criminal justice agencies, a deep sense of hopelessness and distress which was compounded by the low self-confidence and esteem which left her vulnerable to the continuation of the domestic violence and abuse. Emma built her trust which enable her to talk, for the first time, about her situation and the history.’

(Emma went on to co-ordinate agency services, together with a new name and set of possibilities, beyond the prison).

Sarah Kennedy, Local Butler Trust Champion and Communications Manager, says Emma ‘does not subscribe to a… standardised risk reduction menu but instead looks at the underpinning concerns to develop creative and tailored care packages. Emma is tenacious in her approach to engaging stakeholders and agencies…she has helped so many women rebuild their lives.’

Emma has also undertaken responsibility and coordination for the Restorative Justice Programme at Bronzefield, written and developed a victim empathy 1-2-1 intervention to be delivered by all caseworkers and, says Sarah, ‘is a key driver at Bronzefield in building an internal culture of restorative practice.’ Emma’s work ethic, she adds, ‘is second to none. Her contributions at Bronzefield leave legacies on prison culture but most significantly on the women who are fortunate enough to have her allocated as their Offender Supervisor.’ Bronzefield’s Director, Ian Whiteside, agrees and says Emma ‘works tirelessly to ensure that the women in her care are afforded every opportunity prior to and after release.’

Emma explains that her caseload, of 50 to 60 women, ranges from ‘remand status, short sentences, over 12-month sentences, lifers, TACT [Terrorism Act 2000] offenders and restricted status offenders…I can be de-escalating a highly volatile and frustrated resident about their parole then walking into a mother and baby unit board in a matter of minutes.’ As she points out, ‘The majority of women offenders have unfortunately suffered a great deal of trauma in their lives.’

A great many of those women added their own heartfelt handwritten testimonials to Emma’s nomination. ‘Alison’ wrote that, ‘Right from the beginning you have been kind and honest with me. You have such a big heart and have made me laugh. I will never forget you and the kindness you have showed me’ while ‘Bridget’ said ‘I can’t thank you enough for fighting for me behind the scenes. I am grateful for you being honest with me. You have made me want to be the best mum ever.’ ‘Kate’ said ‘I don’t think I’d be in this [much better] position without the help of staff, including Emma,’ and ‘Anna’ added, ‘she is a one in a million lady. The encouragements she gave me and guidance as a Case Worker is great… All the kindness and trust I have in her – all I can say is thank you.’

‘Linda’, meanwhile, said ‘It was my first time in prison and I was completely beside myself and struggling to cope but from the minute I met Emma she did her best to work with me and help me adjust…Emma has certainly helped make my sentence a lot easier for me and my family.’ ‘Fatima’ wrote that she was ‘fighting for my sister who is 3 years old and up for adoption. I lost my Mum in March as she passed away and have very little family support. I don’t know how I would have got through this without Emma…I cannot thank her enough for the support and feel I not have got through this without her. Thank you so, so much Emma, you are an amazing case worker who goes above and beyond for me.’ And one offender’s aunt, ‘Lena’, wrote ‘from the bottom of my heart, thank you for [letting] ‘Helen’ [visit her dying] Mum… Again, I cannot thank you and the others for your efforts and support.’

Several colleagues added testimonials, too. Charlotte Durnin, Head of Rehabilitative Services – Justice Services at Sodexo, said Emma’s ‘ability to engage residents is exemplary, she is able to implement appropriate boundaries and demonstrates compassion and empathy.’ Anthony Singh, IOMU [Integrated Offender Management Unit] Team Leader, added that Emma was ‘articulate, hardworking, dependable, responsible, caring, helpful, and her enthusiasm for the job comes through in all she does. She has a positive attitude that makes her a pleasure to manage and work with, this is one of the many reasons she is liked by the residents and colleagues’, adding that she had a ‘contagious enthusiasm’ and ‘great pride in her job.’ Caroline MacInnes, a Probation Officer, said that ‘it has been refreshing and a delight to come across Emma and her positive attitude to her role within the prison.’

This kind of work is all too important, and all too often underappreciated and unsung, and yet, as Emma says, ‘My work makes a difference not only to some of the most damaged women in our society but also to the victims that have been harmed as a result of their behaviour.’

* Prisoners’ names have been anonymised.

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