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

KEITH VICKERS (HMP & YOI Hatfield)

KEITH VICKERS (HMP & YOI Hatfield)

David Wood [from 2022]

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Described as “a remarkable member of staff”, and by one prisoner as simply “ace”, Officer Keith’s Commendation is for his “phenomenal” resettlement work at HMP/YOI Hatfield, more than doubling prisoners in paid outside work, and achieving record levels of employment back in the community.

Keith’s Initial nominator and Hatfield Custodial Manager Richard Bower explains that Keith’s ‘outstanding track record of securing prisoners full time paid employment’ is about ‘giving prisoners real hope and opportunity where often they have had none.’ In a career spanning 30 years, says Richard, Keith’s ‘incredible work ethic and encyclopaedic knowledge and commitment’ means he is ‘highly valued by everyone’. Richard puts this down to Keith’s ‘passion and interest’ in developing relationships with external companies to secure paid employment opportunities for prisoners. In the last two years, adds Richard, Keith has helped take the department to ‘new heights’ – last year, for instance, increasing the number of prisoners working in external paid employment by 115% to over 100 prisoners.

As with so many Butler Trust winners, Richard calls Keith ‘a modest man who would describe himself as “doing what officers do” to help those in our custody and care – yet Keith does so much more than this.’ Among the excellent relationships Keith has forged are twenty major companies including Polypipe, Next, Clipper, Greggs and GXO. ‘Ask anyone about Keith they only have positives’, adds Richard, who cites Becky, from Novus Works, who describes Keith as having:

‘a pragmatic and can-do attitude, looking for the best possible outcomes whilst maintaining public safety. He has fantastic attitude and demeanor.’

Meanwhile Tempus Novo call Keith ‘instrumental in prisoner employment, always looking beyond the horizon for the next opportunity to grab,’ and rate him ‘the most switched on, organised and effective member of staff.’

Respected by colleagues, peers and prisoners alike, Keith regularly features on the ‘Tree of Positivity’ where Hatfield’s prisoners give feedback. One prisoner, Sam, who recently started employment with Clipper, says ‘I had never been able to get a proper job before Mr. Vickers worked with me and helped me prepare for the interview and now I love earning money which I am saving for my family on release.’

Richard adds that ‘HMPPS is blessed to have Keith as an employee…Keith is phenomenal in everyone’s book.’ He also notes that, as a result of Keith’s drive and ambition: ‘The establishment has the highest rate of prisoners leaving with employment on release across the whole estate – for example, 70% in April 2022 and 57% in May 2022… completely outperforming every prison. Without Keith this would not happen and hundreds of our prisoners would not have been given hope, support and a real chance!’

Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance at HMP Hatfield, Liz Whittaker, says:

‘Keith is a remarkable member of staff and one that HMPPS is very proud to employ. Keith represents all that is good about Prison Officers. He is professional, calm, empathetic and fiercely motivated to support prisoners to succeed. His work ethic and commitment is simply second to none…Never one to make a fuss but gets a real quality job done.’

Deputy Governor Kev Dennis concurs, noting that Keith ‘is full of enthusiasm and embraces change.’ Head of Reducing Reoffending, Steve Laud, agrees, saying that ‘Keith genuinely embodies the guiding principles of HMPPS…by enabling people to be their best.’ Prisoners, too, agree, with one summing him up simply but effectively:

‘Mr. Vickers is ace, he listens to you and helps you… he tells you what’s what.’

Another proudly adds ‘This is the first job I’ve ever held down. Mr Vickers helped me to into a job that was right for me, I love it and now I’m a team leader.’

Hatfield’s Governing Governor Mick Mills notes that ‘Keith clearly is an exceptional Prison Officer achieving great things for our prisoners [and] to have delivered a 115% increase in prisoners in paid employment, which equates to 100 men, during COVID is exceptional.’ He points out that this ‘allowed us to support key work in warehousing and distribution putting food on the shelves in shops when there was none, and people were queuing for hours for basic essentials.’

The Governor then shares one of what he calls ‘literally hundreds of these stories that are down to Keith’, which beautifully sums up in one small anecdote the impact that Keith has had:

‘A prisoner told me he phoned home and his daughter said she wanted to do ballet, but her mum said we can’t afford it. The prisoner was able to say Daddy has a job now he will pay for it. The prisoner said it was one of the proudest moments he has ever had with his family as he had never had a job before.’

Governor Mills adds that ‘the ethos of the prison has changed in the last 2 years,’ noting that ‘last year we did not have a single assault on staff or another prisoner.’ He puts a lot of this down to prisoners having ‘so much to lose’ because the work Keith does ‘shows them that they can and will get a real wage, be able to support their families and often for the first time have the hope and opportunity to turn their backs on crime.’

Keith explains that he really got going three years ago as he started his new role with a broad remit and ‘ultimate vision’ to secure ‘meaningful, sustainable and appropriate employment for our prisoners.’ Because it was a new role, he says, ‘I was able to research and create new processes and devise new assurance systems with the ultimate aim of maximising opportunities for our prisoners to gain sustainable employment on release.’

He notes that in January 2021 just 46 prisoners were in external employment, and Hatfield was assessed as ‘average’ in securing prisoners sustainable employment on release. Since then, he says, ‘with the solid foundations in place I have overseen an expansion to 104 external placements with 22 different employers.’ He then adds that since August 2021, ‘HMP Hatfield has been assessed as the highest performing prison in the Prison Service at securing prisoners employment on release.’ He concludes by describing his ‘part’ in this remarkable achievement with the words of his Functional Head:

‘Without Keith we wouldn’t have the structures we have now, without Keith we wouldn’t have the employers we have now, the results we have now and above all our prisoners wouldn’t have the opportunities to rehabilitate that they do now.’