Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2021-22: Mel’s Commendation is for her outstanding leadership in transforming the Close Supervision Centre, and Separation & Segregation Unit, at HMP Full Sutton, praised by the Regional Director, HMI Prisons and the prisoners themselves.
‘She allowed us to build hope’
Mel faced the challenge of a unit with an unhappy recent history, repeated violence, physical damage, and declining morale. Wielding a trademark combination of “a positive attitude and no nonsense”, she set about the task with a diligence and effectiveness everyone began to notice: prisoners, colleagues, Governor, HMIP Chief Inspector Peter Clarke and HMPPS’s Director of the Long Term & High Security Estate, Richard Vince, who says Mel has created “the best Dispersal Segregation Unit I have seen in a long time.”
It was, as Mel explains, a complex and demanding task. “As well as very disruptive individuals, there were prisoners who had unidentified pathways and no avenues to end segregation. And, as is endemic in the Dispersal system, some prisoners who simply couldn’t – or wouldn’t – relocate, and seemed to prefer long-term segregation despite the effects of such a solitary existence.” Some staff, she recalls, “were burnt out and felt unsupported”. All in all, it was “a big task in hand.” It took over two years hard work, much of it during the COVID pandemic, explains Mel, “but now I manage a very settled, strengthened and refurbished unit.”
Now all individuals have identified pathways and staff have psychological support, team-building events, and training. Equality of access, visible leadership, a rehabilitative culture and positive interactions between staff and prisoners are all promoted, says Mel. “My staff have clear communication with prisoners and deliver honest praise and make difficult challenges. Decision-making is procedurally just” and prisoner-led refurbishment and maintenance supports the wider prison estate in managing “truculent individuals at short notice in a responsive manner.”
Mel makes herself available to the prisoners and “takes a personal interest in the more challenging problems”, getting involved to give “clear answers and pathways” to prisoners. She is committed to being “a visible and approachable leader”, which she believes develops “the team ethic which we hold high as a value.”
A full refurbishment created “a fresh feel and environment”, with enhanced cleaning schedules allowing prisoners to “take ownership and buy into the community spirit”, and “insight and training for staff” led to a unit that was “bright, colourful, engaging and the most settled it has been for several years,” says Mel.
HMIP Chief Inspector Peter Clarke was pleased to see the segregation unit so improved, “staff knowing the prisoners in their care”, and prisoners “positive about staff… We observed some good interactions. Living conditions had improved. Communal areas and cells were clean, cells were free of graffiti and prisoners could clean them every day.”
The praise of the men themselves is particularly notable and effusive. Mel “changed everything”, they say, from the environment to staff motivation, and makes them “feel heard.” She’s created “a greater level of respect” by holding both staff and men “accountable” and making them “take responsibility for their actions”. As one prisoner, ‘Aaron’, put it eloquently: “she allowed us to build hope in a place where hope is hard to find.”
Mel’s focus on psychological needs and support for both prisoners and staff is impressive, too. She’s introduced Trauma Risk Management (TRiM), a trauma-focused peer support system for those who experience traumatic or potentially traumatic events. She not only recruits staff and prisoners, she also leads by personal example, undertaking the training herself.
As Governor Gareth Sands observes, “When prisons are operating well, memories can often be short. From a personal perspective I have a clear and vivid recollection of how the unit was versus how good it could be”. He is “delighted” the unit is now “a beacon of best practice” and that it sets “the tone and the expectations for the prison in terms of standards.”