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AWARD WINNERS 2012-13: Kevin and Derek from HMP Edinburgh, Martin from SPS HQ and Irene from Lothian & Borders Police are awarded for their contributions to the development and management of the establishment’s “Prison Watch Scheme”. The scheme engages the local community and prisoners’ families in helping to keep the prison and its surroundings safe, has contributed to a dramatic reduction in prohibited items entering the prison and is now being rolled out across the estate.


[Derek McLeod gives his account of the work for which he won his Award]

Prison Watch Scotland has contributed to a 70% reduction in the amount of unauthorised articles being introduced into HMP Edinburgh. This national award winning joint multi agency initiative provides opportunity for the local community to report any criminal activity by telephoning the 24/7 confidential hotline number.

During 2009-2010 the prison had a particular problem with illegal items being introduced into the prison by means of over the perimeter wall, in property and at visits. Analysis of the problem highlighted that during this period mobile telephones, drugs and alcohol was being introduced into the prison. This problem caused great concern for the prison management team and the problems this can cause for the community in terms of anti-social behaviour, bullying, threats of violence, intimidation, extortion and putting pressure on individuals to commit acts of criminality. This also conflicts with the prison’s ethos of maintaining and developing meaningful family relationships between prisoners and their families.

As a result Prison Watch Scotland was created and was launched in February 2011 at HMP Edinburgh by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice at a major event which was covered by local and national media. It is a crime preventative initiative similar to Neighbourhood Watch in the community but deals with the immediate area in and around the prison.

It was created in partnership with Scottish Prison Service, the then Lothian and Borders Police (now Police Scotland as of 1 April 2013) and City of Edinburgh, and is aimed at seeking the support of the local community, businesses, visitors and staff so they can play their part reporting any suspicious activity taking place around the area immediate to the prison.

Prison Watch Scotland provides the opportunity for members of the public to report any suspicious or criminal activity using a 24 hour dedicated hot line number direct into the Prison Control Room which allows for prompt action to be taken and a subsequent police response if required.

What did it take to set up Prison Watch Scotland?

A small multi agency partnership team led by the Head of Operations at the prison worked over a 4 month period to set up the initiative and project plan. This included:

• Acknowledging that there was a problem with shared concerns.
• Analysing and presenting data relevant to the problem.
• Creating a shared understanding and acceptance of the problem.
• Devising a Memorandum of Understanding between Police and Scottish Prison Service.
• Developing a SMART Action Plan (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time scaled)
• Designing a communication strategy which included material to promote the initiative e.g. posters, leaflets, logos, banners.
• Engaging with the local community and businesses to promote the initiative and gauge buy in.
• Planning the launch of the initiative which included a media strategy.
• Devise an evaluation review of the initiative after 6 months and 12 months respectively.

The initiative was reviewed 6 months after the launch and again one year on. Comparison of the data of the same 6 month period the year before the launch and the 2 subsequent 6 month periods since the launch identified outstanding results. Over the 3 periods analysed there was a 70 % reduction in finds. As a result, Prison Watch Scotland has now been rolled out across every prison in Scotland.

Since its inception Prison Watch Scotland works alongside a number of other successful tactical strategies and options used by HMP Edinburgh and Police Scotland to stop the introduction of illegal items like drugs, mobile telephones and weapons into the prison. This includes high police visibility during visiting times in the car parks and visitor centre; use of detection dogs; enhanced search operations and ‘meet the police’ events.

What is one of the key points to its success is being creative in developing tactical options; thinking out of the box, over the wall; to try out new and untested methods (but still assessing and maintaining the operational stability of the prison) and capturing the successful outcomes and sharing best practice and lessons learned with other colleagues in other prisons for them to roll out.


[The following article appeared in issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

Derek McLeod, Martin Birrell, Kevin Dodd, and Irene Ralston are Butler Trust Award Winners for their contributions to the Prison Watch Scotland scheme to support HMP Edinburgh’s perimeter security.

Launched at the establishment in February 2011, prison watch is a partnership project between the prison, local authority and police. Based on community neighbourhood watch schemes, it focuses on the areas in and around the prison and asks for the support of the local community and businesses to report any suspicious activity.

Derek McLeod, the prison’s Head of Operations, led the multidisciplinary team that devised and set up the initiative, and he continues to manage the scheme as well as promoting it across all SPS sites. Corporate Affairs Manager at SPS, Martin Birrell, created the communications strategy in partnership with the police, while First Line Manager at HMP Edinburgh, Kevin Dodd, oversees the use of the information and intelligence provided. A Chief Inspector with Lothian and Borders Police, Irene Ralston, meanwhile, is the lead on the police side, with responsibility for allocating and deploying police resources and maintaining partner relationships with the community and local authority. She also helped to create the service level agreement and continues to chair the joint police/prison operational meetings.

‘The scheme came about because of problems within the prison, with packages being thrown over the wall – it was to try to stop contraband items entering the prison,’ she tells Inspire. ‘Obviously you’ve got organised crime groups in there, and with mobile phones they’re still able to carry on their business or intimidate witnesses from their prison cell, which is obviously unacceptable.’

The initiative is designed as part of a range of strategies to stop drugs, weapons, phones and other items being smuggled into the prison, and was instigated following an increase in the of number of items being thrown over the perimeter walls or brought in at visits, with people able to report any suspicious activity via a dedicated 24-hour hotline which allows for a rapid response.

‘It started with the dedicated hotline but it’s continued from there to have a sustained impetus in terms of a whole number of operations,’ says Irene. ‘Once you shut down one area where contraband can come in, they’re quite cute in terms of trying to get it in through other methods, so we have to make sure we stay on top of the intelligence. We had a recent operation in response to intelligence that suggested some people were actually concealing drugs and mobile phones internally and deliberately handing themselves in, to then go into the prison system.’

A sixmonth review in August 2011 found that the number of unauthorised items entering the prison was already down by 76 per cent. ‘The figures are based on recoveries,’ she says. ‘A lot of stuff will go into the prison and obviously not everything’s recovered, but if you’ve got a lesser number of items being recovered then it suggests that fewer items are going in.’

One startling statistic is the decline in the amount of heroin being found in the establishment. From February to August 2010, nearly 200 grams of heroin were discovered, compared to just four grams over the corresponding period the following year.

Community involvement has been key to the project’s success, stresses Irene. ‘It’s about making the community aware of what’s happening in their area, so they might see a vehicle parked up that doesn’t look quite right which could be a signal to somebody in the prison. We had all the local officers knocking on every single door in the vicinity of the prison, giving people a leaflet and the dedicated number to contact, getting them on board. Sometimes one call will lead to something else, and it all contributes.’

SPS now has plans to roll the scheme out, with its Director of Prisons stating in 2012 that it should be implemented across all Scottish public sector prisons. So what advice would she offer to anyone planning to set up a similar operation? ‘A lot depends on the area – to launch a prison watch scheme for the community to report anything suspicious is obviously more difficult if the prison is in the middle of nowhere, whereas ours is surrounded by housing,’ she says. ‘But you can always have a scheme in terms of trying to prevent items getting into the prison in the first place – we just put everything under the one umbrella of ‘prison watch’. It’s a number of different approaches to tackle the same problem.’

However, the main ingredient for success remains strong links with partners, she stresses. ‘It’s a case of coming to the table to identify what the issues are and working together collectively to try to provide a solution, which is how we came up with all this. A lot of the partnership working things that you undertake can be very shortlived, but this one hasn’t been – it’s been going on for a couple of years now. I think that’s because we’ve had to adapt and change the way we do things in order to respond to the intelligence that’s coming in. It’s keeping that regular contact up, to say “this is what’s happening, this is an emerging issue – let’s try to tackle it right now”. That’s key.

‘I’m pleased that the Award’s recognising the work,’ she says. ‘And it’s good that it’s a joint Award for the prison service and the police. It’s a bit more unusual for it to be given jointly.’

For more information: contact HMP Edinburgh

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