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



Julie Innes

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Julie is granted a Commendation as “a popular and effective Prison Chaplain” at HMP/YOI Grampian, for the “enormous sense of care and compassion” she brings to the role, and in particular for her support for prisoners with mental health and addiction issues.

Initial nominator and HMP & YOI Grampian’s Head of Offender Outcomes, Eilidh Smith, explains that Julie began her work there as a Chaplaincy volunteer, ‘attending and supporting service delivery for the ladies in our care’ but ‘quickly fell in love with the role’, and so, when a part time Prison Chaplain vacancy came up, she got the role and joined the team permanently. Eilidh adds that Julie was honest about ‘the incredible personal recovery journey she has been through’ and ‘her passion in supporting others to be successful in their journeys has been clear from the outset.’

Julie began her new role as the COVID 19 pandemic began. But although her trainer was forced to shield at home, ‘Julie did not let this stop her’, using used her ‘determination and natural ability’ to build relationships and gain trust, establishing herself as ‘a popular and effective Prison Chaplain.’ Amid COVID restrictions, Julie created a virtual recovery café and in person conversation cafés giving those in Grampian’s care ‘positive and aspirational stories’ throughout lockdowns – ‘a fundamental element in promoting positive mental health and hope at such a difficult time.’ She also established a clothing bank for the ladies, ‘collecting items from her local community to ensure everyone had access to warm and suitable clothing, toiletries and essential items. The bank has also provided white goods, food parcels and other household items to ladies who have been released and were in need of these.’

In addition to the work for which she has won her Commendation, Julie is also part of the Aberdeen Street Pastor Outreach Team who clothe, issue hot meals, and provide ‘care and a safe space to all those involved in the night time economy in the city; many of whom Julie has worked with in custody.’ As well as going ‘above and beyond’ in many other ways, says Eilidh, ‘Julie and her husband Paul also take services in their local Church and travel around the country with their two young children telling their personal stories of recovery, hope, faith and love. Somehow this year Julie has also managed to complete an accredited course in counselling in order to better support those in our care.’ Eilidh concludes by emphasising Julie’s ‘outstanding and extraordinary dedication’ alongside her care and devotion.

Melanie Noble is the Butler Trust Local Champion and Human Resources Business Partner at HMP & YOI Grampian, and shares one prisoner’s powerful testimonial that Julie ‘has supported me over 10 years not just with the drugs, she also meets me regularly in the community. She went above and beyond the last time I was in custody suffering from mental health issues and deep depression. Helping with getting me into rehab [and] visiting me on a regular basis.’

Manager Natalie Campbell calls Julie’s digital recovery service, created with DVDs and devised during lockdown, ‘an absolute wildcard’, but says that Julie, along with her guest speakers, ‘really got the message of recovery through a variety of sources through to an audience that were at their most vulnerable during lock down’, noting there were real and measurable impacts.’

Before Julie’s input ‘these women generally did not believe in themselves enough to make this brave first step [towards rehabilitation] and felt they did not deserve the chance of a different path. Watching women develop self-worth through Julie’s support and the change that has come from them as they explore trusting someone who only has their best interest at heart is wonderful…I have known Julie as part of her Church to help people at their lowest ebb find rehabilitation spaces and medical attention when they have nobody else.’ She adds that:

‘The women I work with live chaotic lives where they are not really seen as the people they are but rather their addiction but Julie effortlessly makes every person feel cared for and she really brightens their whole day. Julie is also a fearless advocate of those in our care… she is truly a blessing to those we have in HMP & YOI Grampian.’

She also notes Julie’s positive approach to staff which ‘has really opened people’s eyes to the power of positive conversation, the value of taking time to say a few kind words and the power of self-belief. These factors in conjunction with her recovery work has made a huge positive impact in our environment and has positively shaped how we support those in our care.’ Meanwhile the Governor in Charge at Grampian, Mike Hebden, praises Julie for:

‘the enormous sense of care and compassion which she brings to working with vulnerable clients.’

Julie herself describes that before her current work, she worked in residential rehab for 12 years, ‘seeing men and woman break free from substance abuse and then using their own experiences to help others.’ She adds that her own journey means she is able to use her own life experiences and story ‘to help the people in our care see that it can be done,’ adding ‘I have had the privilege of seeing men and woman come straight from prison and into rehabs where they have done very well and begun the journey of change.’ She concludes, movingly, that:

‘I do what I do because I love to see people find freedom and my passion drives me to set people up to win, I do feel that is my job, but I do see it more as a calling…I call it an honour to be able to pour into people out of the overflow of what’s been poured into me. I still pinch myself that this is my life now.’