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



Jean Peckham

AWARD WINNER 2018-19: Jean is a Prison Officer at HMP Hewell. She currently works in the prison’s hospital wing and receives an Award for the “decency, kindness and enthusiasm” she has shown throughout her career, and for being an inspirational and widely-respected role model to both prisoners and colleagues.
[This Award is supported by Serco Justice Services.]

Initial Nominator, Officer Adam Marthews, says that ‘Jean’s natural caring style and empathy’ means ‘she quickly de-escalates volatile situations, by knowing and getting the individuals to calm down and support them in making better choices.’

Jean has worked for 26 years in a variety of prisons and, adds Adam, ‘is recognised for her decency, kindness and enthusiasm in help supporting those in crisis.’ He gives an example of Jean’s approach with a patient called Harry*, an elderly patient who regularly wets and soils himself during the night. To preserve his dignity, ‘Jean always ensures that he is unlocked before the other patients so he can shower and is provided with clean underwear and clothes.’ [The Butler Trust has examined this issue across two workshops, on the Management and Care of Older Prisoners and the needs and challenges of an ageing population.]

Jean also organises activities for the inpatients, like painting and gardening, as well as celebrations and events, and encourages them to take part. Promoting ‘a positive environment for all’, she ‘makes sure they feel supported and cared for’. A champion of the vulnerable, her work with Foreign National prisoners, in particular, led to Hewell receiving regional praise and becoming ‘a gold hub’ in this area.

Outside work, Adam notes, Jean is very active as a charity volunteer and fund-raiser in support of both local and national causes, including cystic fibrosis, the homeless, Wonky Pets Rescue, and the Birmingham children’s hospital. However, he adds, ‘The most important gift that Jean offers is her wisdom and generosity in terms of time, and wanting to make the service a better place for all… Jean is an unsung hero. Staff and prisoners simply adore Jean because she gives everyone her time, making them feel special and listened to. It is to her credit that she is still so passionate about the job, caring for prisoners after so many years and still wanting to make positive differences for staff and prisoners.’

Butler Trust Local Champion Belinda Garrett calls Jean ‘an impressive person and a magnificent example of a Prison Officer’. Across over 26 years as a front-line officer, she adds, ‘Jean has demonstrated extraordinary resilience and commitment to the values of the Service’. Belinda notes that ‘every one of those years is infused with a genuine application – and evidence of exceptional public service.’

Belinda thinks Jean’s particular gift is ‘a patiently positive personality, choosing to persevere in the face of difficulty, and to find a way forward with even the most disordered and challenging prisoners.’ She describes ‘care and attention that is gently and persistently applied, that builds relationships, and offers an antidote to the stresses of the prison environment.’ Jean’s ‘fun, phlegmatic good humour and pragmatism’ at work ‘helps her carry a culture that practically and emotionally pulls others together as they care for prisoner patients.’

Calling Jean ‘a talismanic figure and symbol of HMP Hewell, distilling some of the best qualities present throughout the prison’, Belinda says Jean’s ‘seemingly effortless ability’ to connect and develop constructive relationships ‘is an object lesson in effectiveness’.

Although kind, however, Jean is also ‘carefully professional and certainly no pushover. Her skill in appropriately maintaining order and control is essential in such a sensitive area as Inpatients.’ Hewell’s Governor, Gareth Sands, agrees, and in turn calls Jean ‘a prison officer that gives her all, day in, day out’ who gets ‘astounding results, is a role model to many and a fantastic ambassador for the Prison Service’.

Jean describes her work on the unit as both rewarding but challenging at times, and involving the wearing of ‘many hats’. She cites working with elderly patients with complex needs, like limited mobility and the onset of dementia, whose behaviour can be erratic and aggressive, and who need to be handled with thoughtful care so that her instructions are not perceived as an ‘attack’ or frightening. Getting to know patients helps her effectiveness, she says. She mentions Harry as an example. ‘He’s a proud man who was diagnosed with dementia and he can get very frustrated and angry. But I know that if I start singing, he will calm down and join in, as he loves to sing.’

Jean is, says, Belinda, ‘a true example of Prison Service values and a priceless gift to the prisoners she is responsible for.’

* Prisoners’ names have been anonymised.

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