Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2011-12: Officer Raistrick wins his Award for his work on the vulnerable prisoner unit, B1, at HMP Leeds. The unit links closely with psychology, education, and the mental health in-reach and safer custody teams. It has had excellent results, helping to reduce self harm and improve prisoners’ coping skills, and equipping most of its residents to return to normal location. B1 was Phil’s idea, he has been the driving force behind it since its inception, and the unit has been identified as an example of good practice by HMCIP. (This Award is supported by Sodexo Justice Services).
[Phil Raistrick gives his account of the work for which he won his Award]
B wing reopened at HMP Leeds in November 2008. I quickly identified there was a landing that was suitable for a small number of prisoners that I could utilise for an idea I had using the 14 cells available to me. I have worked on the residential units and in the segregation unit at Leeds and it was clear to me that there are some prisoners who, for numerous reasons, are unable to cope on a big, busy wing, or have spent long periods of time segregated and who would benefit from a regime that would enable them to work with staff on a more one to one basis.
I also saw this as a great opportunity to train prisoners to act as mentors for the prisoners down there and also to ensure that peer support was put in place and used appropriately.
I worked on a proposal for ‘B1 landing’ and although a bid for further resources was rejected, I continued to pursue my idea and the senior management team finally accepted my proposal and I the unit was opened in March 2009. I initially gave the prisoners who would be acting at mentors time to settle in and then prisoners who were deemed suitable for the unit began to arrive once they had been approved by a residential Governor.
I ensured that the selection criteria for the landing was quite strict so that those who genuinely needed the help and support of the unit could access it, but I also made sure that it was wide ranging. Some of these included:
1. Prisoners who had been segregated for a long period of time
2. Prisoners who had been in healthcare for a long period of time
3. Prisoners who are first time in custody and need a bit longer than 1 night to settle and get used to the regime.
4. Prisoners who have behavioural or mental health issues.
I quickly identified that the majority of these prisoners would need some help from other agencies so i forged links with the Mental Health In Reach Team, The Safer Custody Unit, Psychology, Education and the Safer Prisons Team.
It was also clear from the start that the unit would have prisoners on there who were being cared for under the ACCT plan. My involvement with all the above teams meant that the ACCT reviews were really structured and the care plans created specific to that individual and SMART in the targets set.
A daily routine needed to be established so the prisoners not only had access to the agencies they required but also kept themselves busy during the day and were given the opportunity to interact with the staff. Examples of the routine include cleaning the unit and their own cells, working with education on some work set or playing board games such as bullseye where prisoners are encouraged to tell each other things about themselves.
Once it was deemed as suitable, prisoners from B1 landing would begin to spend some time on B wing, interacting with more prisoners in a busier environment and this then enabled them to progress to living on B wing. This was the final goal for all prisoners on B1 landing, but everyone was allowed to move at their own pace.
I genuinely believe that the unit does make a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis. I have seen first hand prisoners who have come on the unit and not even been able to collect their own meals who now live on mainstream location and interact in daily prison life.
The idea I had was to enable those prisoners who would otherwise have severely struggled with prison life to access the help and support they needed to enable them to build their confidence and to make things a little easier for them in what would have otherwise been an environment in which they may have never learnt to cope. This could then have led to self harm issues which I believe have gone some way to being alleviated with the help of B1 landing.
[The following article appeared in issue 4 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Philip Raistrick is a Butler Trust Award winner for his work with the vulnerable prisoner unit at HMP Leeds. The unit is designed for prisoners who find it difficult to cope with the normal prison regime, and works closely with the psychology, education, mental health inreach and safer custody teams, helping to reduce levels of self-harm and improve prisoners’ coping skills to allow them to return to the main prison.
‘I was working in the segregation unit and I found that the majority of people came back – we had the same people reappearing all the time,’ he says. ‘I started doing a small exit poll and then going on to the wing after a couple of days to ask them how they were coping, and the same sort of problems were identifying themselves all the time. I thought a transition unit would be a good idea, because it’s very different going from long-term segregation to the wing. People were shell-shocked, they weren’t ready to go back at all.’
He came up with a plan for a ‘quiet, small, contained unit’ where prisoners could be slowly integrated back on to the main wing, such as people with mental health problems who ‘just couldn’t cope and were isolating themselves’, he says. He identified a landing suitable for the unit and when his first bid was rejected he put in another, only to be turned down again. ‘Initially it was quite hard because they just wanted to know how much money you want, but I just decided to keep going with it. I said, “just let me have a go – if it fails, you can blame me. If I can run it for nothing, can we do it?” They said, “nothing’s good”. So we managed to start it with no budget at all.’
Entrance criteria for the unit – which finally opened in 2009 – are strict. Eligible prisoners include people who have been segregated or in healthcare for a long time, those with mental health or behavioural issues or those who are in custody for the first time and might need more than one night to settle in. ‘A lot of the time we found we could solve people’s problems quite quickly – it was just a question of listening – but with others we couldn’t. We’d do some reintegration work with them and point them in the direction of other agencies who could help.’
The daily routine of the vulnerable prisoner unit is designed to make people interact, he stresses. ‘A lot of the lads have very poor social skills. People laughed, but I do little quizzes and card games. When I started doing the quiz there was me, one listener and one inmate, and I thought, “this isn’t going to work”, but I just kept going. Now the staff do it as well, so it’s also about breaking down the barriers between the prisoners and staff. People think, “he’s not just a faceless white shirt, he’s someone I can relate to”, because we have quiz teams and a quiz league.’
There’s also a very successful mentoring scheme, he points out. ‘That’s working a lot better than I thought it would. I’ve never self-harmed, for example, although I’ve worked a great deal with people who have, so it’s difficult for me to say to someone, “I know how you’re feeling, I know what you’re going through”, because I don’t. But someone who has self-harmed will know, and that encourages people to build up relationships. And a lot of people who started as mentors went on to do the listener’s course, so that’s worked really well for them.
If people are thinking about self harm they know there’s someone they can go and talk to, and people know the signs, so the levels have come down dramatically.’ The unit has been identified as an example of good practice by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, with prisoners who previously would not even leave their cells to collect their meals now living and working on normal location, alongside a number who before had been on constant supervision.
‘We were getting so many referrals, so we tried to identify the people with the greatest need,’ he says. ‘That’s difficult, because you’re saying, “you’re not needy, and you are”. We tried to accommodate everyone but we just couldn’t – the initial demand was massive, but now it’s getting less because they’re filtering out to the wings.’
The unit is also helping to resolve issues like housing and employment through contact with the relevant agencies, and it works extremely closely with teams such as psychology and education. ‘That’s been the great thing,’ he says. ‘Everyone now is obviously constrained by budget, but I say, “I know you’re busy, but if you could just spare me half an hour and tell me what you think is going on with this lad”. If you do it that way, people are more than willing to help you. People have been great – it’s just about sparing little bits of time here and there to help them, and it makes it an easier environment for everyone, it helps with every team’s work.’
What about feedback from the prisoners themselves? ‘The biggest thing I normally get is a thank you, which only sounds a little thing but it means a great deal. For lads to say “thank you for listening” is a big, big thing for me. I’ve also had letters from parents. I had a lad – who I’d known since he was a juvenile – cut his throat and I managed to get there in time. To get flowers and a card from his mum saying, “thank you for saving my son’s life” – I don’t mind admitting I sat in the car and cried.’
And what impact does he think the Butler Trust award might have? ‘If it raises the profile and breaks down barriers, then that’s a good thing,’ he says. ‘I’d hope that other prisons get interested and maybe start something of their own. I’ve loads of work I can show other people. If it saves one person then it’s a good thing.’
If the unit itself cannot be rolled out across the whole of the prison estate, there are aspects of it that can, he says. ‘I’ve worked in three different establishments, and different prisons have different ways of doing things. The model we’ve got wouldn’t necessarily work everywhere, but there are bits and pieces that would. I’ve started doing a mental health triage unit, for example. It’s embarrassing for a man to stand up and say, “I’ve got mental health problems”, but this way we have a drop-in clinic where they can just come down and talk to the mental health nurse. You don’t have to tell the wings that’s what you’re doing or put in an application.’
For more information: contact HMP Leeds