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

NEIL ELLIS (HMP Wakefield)

NEIL ELLIS (HMP Wakefield)

COMMENDEE 2016-17: Neil is an Officer and Sex Offender Treatment Programme facilitator at HMP Wakefield, and is Commended for his contribution to the ‘Wayfinders’ peer outreach programme at the prison.

Neil Ellis’s tireless and passionate enthusiasm as a lead on HMP Wakefield’s innovative ‘Wayfinder’ project, which uses a peer support and prisoner engagement model for sex offenders, is reflected in his desire to see prisoners return to society as “assets not problems.”

Neil works as a Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) facilitator, explains Lisa Hewitt, his nominator and a SOTP and Clinical Lead at Wakefield. He brings “an obvious passion” to the work, and his “ideas and personal commitment” have helped drive forward the Wayfinder initiative – a model unique to Wakefield, with some elements “that proved challenging to embed.” This ground-breaking work has also been recognised with a Rehabilitative Culture Award from the High Security Estate in 2015. Throughout this process, says Lisa, Neil has “continued to exude enthusiasm for his work, constantly generating ideas and contributing to improvements.”

Jane Read, Head of Psychological Services at Wakefield, explains that Wayfinder offers a peer support and prisoner engagement model offering outreach for prisoners with the aim of increasing motivation and engagement. Those taking responsibility for and addressing their offending have a chance to work collaboratively with staff, and achieve “a high-profile pro social role within the prison community.” Neil, she says, “seized the opportunity”, and is “our main provider of direct staff support to the group.” Describing him as “constantly on the look out for the next step,” Jane adds “Neil generates innumerable ideas, refining these with the prisoners and managers to enhance the work further.”

Jane also reports that Neil “stretches himself across the day to make those extra minutes to follow up on a prisoner who needs to be encouraged, challenged, or just listened to.” The offenders recognise this, clearly, with one dubbing Neil “Mr Motivator” while another said, “He is just 5 star isn’t he, the Wayfinders thing is massive.” Meanwhile one visitor to a Rehabilitative Culture Open Day reported: “the Wayfinders are amazing. I have never come across this level of prisoner peer outreach for programmes before.” Governor Dave Harding concurs, describing Neil as “an inspiration to his colleagues.”

One of his drivers, says Neil, “is knowing that the majority of prisoners will be released into the community… which means that it makes sense to ensure that they are not only prepared for the experience, but that they can thrive and become assets to society, not problems. Rehabilitation is key to the safety of the public and the individuals themselves.”

Neil points out that it is “acknowledged that peer support schemes are likely to work well where peer-workers and prisoners have a positive and credible relationship, and where there is strong support from the Governor and staff in the management of the scheme. HMP Wakefield’s management has been massively supportive of the Wayfinder Initiative and this has been noted throughout the establishment.”

He went on, “we have received report after report from men in our residential units testifying to the support and help given to them from people ‘who have been there and done it.’” As Neil also observes, “the fundamental essence of learning from programmes such as self-awareness, understanding, problem solving and empathy skills may all be enhanced by helping others along the same journey.”

His approach could be justly summed up in one of his remarks: “The Wayfinders make a difference and I am proud to champion their cause.”

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