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AWARD WINNER 2013-14: Jade is a Custodial Manager at HMP Exeter. Described as “a role model to staff and prisoners”, she receives her Award in part for her dedication, skill and commitment to excellence as a Wing Manager, and in particular for her work, much of it in her own time, in support of veterans in the prison. A veteran herself, she interviews all former service personnel entering the prison, and has forged links with support agencies to assist them and their rehabilitation. 


[Jade Burnett gives her account of the work for which she won her Award]

I was given a Butler Trust award for being an exceptional role model to prisoners and staff in supporting the needs of those who have served in the British Armed forces. I identified the need for developing a model of care and support. This has enabled prisoners to overcome trauma, addiction and relationship breakdown. To date, I have engaged with 110 ex-forces prisoners, only 2 of which have re-offended on release.

Early on in my prison service career, through my interaction with prisoners within my care, I became aware that an increasing number of ex-serving or serving armed forces personnel were coming in to custody at HMP Exeter. In consultation with the Head of Offender Management we identified that this group of individuals would need more specific targeted interventions that were not available whilst they were in the custodial environment. It was felt that with my service background, these individuals would feel more comfortable opening up and discussing issues relating to them.

My understanding of military slang, their sense of humour and their sense of pride of having served their country has been, and remains, an important bridge in building relationships. It is equally important that I offer confidentiality and trust to these individuals to enable them to talk about how the impact of conflict has affected not only them, but also their families and on some occasions how nightmares and flashbacks effect their everyday lives.

I conducted a great deal of research prior to the commencement of Veterans In Custody, most of it in my own time, to ensure that there would be adequate charities and agencies who would be willing to work with individuals within the custodial setting and that their individual specific needs would be addressed. Contact with the intervention provider is made by myself either by email, a friendly telephone conversation or a face-to-face meeting. This enables me the opportunity to organise suitable arrangements that accommodates all parties involved and also that the individual receives the best appropriate intervention and care.

When managing individuals that are in the custodial setting, it is very important that individual needs are identified and are managed effectively. This is ever more so important when dealing with veterans as each individual will have experiences and memories that are different to others. During my interviews with each veteran I am able to gather important and relevant information which will ensure that they receive the care and management they deserve.

I established early on that it is essential that I pass on to colleagues, agencies and prisoners the information that I gather in relation to mental illness, PTSD, addiction etc, to raise awareness of what veterans maybe dealing with or trying to cope with. This enables me to ensure that the safety of all individuals concerned is maintained and that when interacting with veterans, it is done so in a professional and balanced manner whilst also ensuring all available time with that individual is utilised to its full potential. It maybe as simple as an individual veteran suffering with hearing loss as the result of an IED explosion, therefore advising people that approaching him from the front would be more prudent, to the more complex scenerio of how to offer ongoing support to an individual suffering with PTSD who uses violence and self harm as a coping mechanism. My work and the knowledge that I have gained throughout my role as the Veterans in Custody co-ordinator has assisted my colleagues by providing them with the understanding in how to manage prisoners with armed forces experience within their care.

I believe my work is essential to the rehabilitation of individuals as early identification and early intervention assists greatly in protecting the public and reducing re-offending. On a veterans departure from this establishment I ensure that ties are maintained and a full handover or a substantial briefing is passed on to either the next establishment or to other agencies that will be dealing with that veteran in the community. This ensures that all the interventions and progress that have been conducted whilst that individual has been in custody continues for their next successful steps on the path of rehabilitation. It also provides encouragement to that veteran to positively engage with those agencies upon release as they have the knowledge and peace of mind that they will not be forgotten or left in limbo.


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

Custodial Manager at HMP Exeter, Jade Burnett (née Colton), set up the Veterans in Custody programme in 2008 to help ex-service personnel come to terms with being sent to prison, drawing on her own ten years in the army in the process. Her success with the initiative has earned her a Butler Trust Award.

This innovative support network interviews prisoners identifying themselves as ex-services on a one-to-one basis, assessing their needs and identifying appropriate interventions. The programme gives them, says Head of Residence Paul Kerswell, ‘a small sense of belonging, hope and the opportunity of speaking to someone who doesn’t judge them when they talk about adjusting to civilian life or the flashbacks or nightmares that they may be suffering from as a result of conflict.’

‘We identified that there was a need for this, because a lot of interventions aren’t really geared up for ex-service personnel,’ Jade tells Inspire. ‘It was about identifying what was available for them and encouraging them to participate.’

She passes information about issues like mental health, substance misuse, self-harm and post-traumatic stress disorder to appropriate colleagues, and makes sure that relevant support is in place after release. To this end she’s forged strong links with external forces charities such as SSAFA, The Royal British Legion, Combat Stress and Resolution to coordinate resources for ongoing support. ‘That aftercare is absolutely vital,’ she stresses. ‘Service personnel usually don’t know it’s available to them until they’re at their wits’ end. I work a lot with the Veterans Agency and people like that, and they just make my life so much easier.’

Even giving people the confidence to identify themselves as ex-forces is a major step in itself, she stresses, involving as it does loss of pride and self-esteem and the shame they feel they’ve brought on themselves, loved ones and the military. ‘A lot of them are really embarrassed that they’ve ended up in this sort of predicament,’ she states. ‘It’s an honour thing to serve in the forces – it’s imprinted all the way through them – so to end up in this sort of environment means that they’ve dishonoured themselves and what they stood for before.’

How does she go about tackling that? ‘It’s about engaging with them positively on a one-to-one, letting them know that they’re not on their own,’ she says. ‘And regardless of what uniform I’m wearing I can identify with the fact that they’re out of the forces and that they have to move on, whether they want to or not. They’ve got to find a path in which they can progress. It’s just about encouraging them, because a lot of them come in and they’ve got really low self-esteem.’

Her own forces background is a vital ingredient, as it means people will identify with her much more than with an ordinary member of staff. ‘I speak the slang and I get to take the mick out of them, and they do it vice-versa – it’s banter that they understand,’ she says.

Since setting up Veterans in Custody she’s helped around 110 ex-services personnel, including veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Falklands and even the Korean War. ‘He was an amazing chap, a really old, frail man. I managed to source a campaign medal for him and he was so chuffed. To someone like him it means so much – it’s a little thing that makes a massive difference.’

She’s regarded by colleagues as a role model for both prisoners and staff, and her ex-services work is delivered on top of her main managerial roles of Custodial Manager and Residential Sector Officer. ‘She was never resourced separately for this work but developed and delivered it simultaneously with her primary role,’ says Governor Jeannine Hendrick. ‘Jade has gone about this work with quiet professionalism; she is self-effacing and describes the work as “just doing what needs to be done”, but it is always so much more than that.’

Jade’s ambition now is for the initiative to be rolled out across the country. ‘At the latest count there were around 3,000 veterans in custody and they need support, so I’d like to see them picked up when they’re coming into custody, as they’re going through their sentence and with interventions in place and signposting for when they get out into the community,’ she says. ‘It’s a massive spectrum, but things need to be addressed going back as far as resettlement in the forces – before they’re even discharged – so that they’re fully aware of what’s available to them should they get into difficulty. Early intervention is absolutely key when it comes to this.’

And how does she feel about being a Butler Trust Award winner? ‘I’m amazed, to be honest, because it’s just a role that I count as my day-to-day job. But I’m thrilled.’


For more information: contact HMP Exeter

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