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COMMENDEE 2011-12: SO Boal is commended for his work as Safer Custody and Violence Reduction manager at HMP Kennett, which has had a profound effect on the culture of all parts of the prison.
[Scott Boal gives his account of the work for which he was awarded a Commendation]
I received my Butler Trust commendation after a number of the systems that I introduced at Kennet were deemed to be best practice in relation to violence reduction and managing those people who were at risk of self-harming. I spent a great deal of time and energy developing ideas into becoming reality, a number of these were deemed to be best practice by audit teams and visits from the HMIP team. I was also nominated for creating an environment which had helped to keep assaults and violent incidents at Kennet to a rare occurrence.
In 2006, the Prison Service decided to convert a disused special hospital site near to Maghull on Merseyside into a prison holding 341 Offenders. The decision was made due to the increase in the prison population nationally and also the lack of prison capacity within the north west area. In order for the site to be fit for purpose as a Category C prison, a huge re-design of the site had to be undertaken with areas ‘that were previously communal ward rooms now converted into double cell accommodation.
In March 2007, I was given the task of being the Safer Custody Senior Officer at HMP Kennet and ensuring that when the prison opened in June 2007, systems’ were in place to ensure that all aspects of Safer Custody were covered.
The two key areas that I had to concentrate on were un-explained injuries/assaults and dealing with those prisoners who posed a risk of self- harming or who had self-harmed. In order for me to ensure that the specific areas of risk were addressed, I had to look at how other establishments were able to manage these areas and identify the most effective parts of their strategies.
In the months leading up to Kennet opening, I visited a number of prisons in the north – west area and paid special attention as to how they dealt with both issues. During these visits I spoke with staff and Offenders to gain the best insight as how I would be able to ensure that Violence within Kennet was at a minimum level. It became apparent during these visits that the key to success would be how we would be able to foster a positive and non- violent culture within Kennet. I also realised that in order for this to be done, it was important that both staff and Offenders played their part in developing and managing violence with the prison.
After visiting Five other prisons and looking at their violence reduction strategies, I set about constructing a strategy that was specific to Kennet, but ensured that it met with national prison policy. I ensured that the prison had a clear policy statement which outlined the expected standard of behaviour and how we as a prison were implementing “a zero tolerance” approach to all violent incidents. The strategy contained clear guidance for staff when involved in any violent incidents and the correct paperwork was readily available to ensure that the incident was recorded and fully investigated to ensure that there would be no further issues from the incident.
I introduced clear protocols’ for staff to ensure that any un-explained injuries were not dismissed as unfortunate accidents, as this was something that I was conscious during visits to other establishments had become custom and practice. I felt that it was important that staff were vigilant to identify any un-explained injuries or assaults as I found that in other establishments, staff would only become aware a few days after the initial incident had taken place and this made it impossible to identify who the perpetrator of the assault was.
Each month I produced a report for the Violence Reduction meeting and would highlight the incidents of violence which had occurred during the previous month and give feedback into the investigations which I had carried out. I would give recommendations as a result of these investigations and these were acted upon to ensure that the chances of a similar incident occurring were reduced. As part of producing my report I had to build up good relationships with other departments within the prison, this included the healthcare department, which was an important aspect to ensuring that violence was well managed in the prison.
Due to the fact that all the healthcare staff had no experience of working in a custodial setting, I had to set up a system whereby all injuries to Offenders were treated by healthcare and that these injuries were recorded in the correct manner. I ensured that all healthcare staff knew what to do if they came across an Offender who had an injury that could have been the result of an assault and who they need to contact for the matter to be further investigated.
The system that I implemented had to be rolled out to all areas’ of the prison which would have Offenders in their care and I ensured that each area had an un-explained injury folder which incorporated all the paperwork and protocols that staff would be required to use if they came across an Offender in their area with any un-explained injuries’. Staff then ensured that any incidents were reported to me and was then able to look at the triggers for these incidents occurring, which then enabled me to put further safety measures in place.
The second aspect of my nomination was in the main due to how I managed those Offenders who were at risk of harming themselves. A key factor in how I was able to do this was the Listener scheme which I had set up through working with the Southport branch of the Samaritans. The Listener scheme involved training a number of Offenders within Kennet to support those Offenders who had self-harmed or who had thoughts to self-harm. I ensured that the Offenders who were Listeners received further Mental Health awareness training by linking in with the local Mental Health in reach team who were able to provide the training package. Each month I ensured that the Listeners and Samaritans were able to meet within the prison in order for the Listeners to be able to unload any issues that they may have encountered during the previous month.
I liaised closely with the Samaritans and introduced a “dealing with conflict” course for the Listeners and looked at ways of ensuring their personal safety when dealing with an Offender who had become confrontationally. This had never been done before for Offenders and the feedback back both the Listeners’ and Samaritans was positive because in the past Listeners had been assaulted whilst dealing with known violent Offenders.
The course was so successful, that a number of establishments now give their own Listeners some form of “dealing with conflict” training to prevent their own Listeners being the victims’ of assault from Offenders who they have been asked to assist.
The relationship between HMP Kennet and the local branch of the Samaritans has been acknowledged as good practice by visits from the HMIP team for the way that the Samaritans are an integral part of how suicide and self-harm prevention is managed. In some establishments the Samaritans have suspended their support for the Listeners’ scheme due to concerns related to how those establishments manage their individual schemes how the Samaritans have felt excluded. A key factor with the scheme at Kennet is that I made sure prior to the prison being opened, the Samaritans were included in any meetings that we had in respect of the design for Care Suites, which would house Listeners’ and Offenders in crisis. The Samaritans were also invited to both the violence reduction and the suicide preventions meetings held in the prison and when any issues were raised, they would be totally involved in the process of resolving this issue. An example of this was on a couple of occasions’, Listeners’ were delayed getting from their wing or work place in order to speak with someone in crisis.
I devised a system, which ensured that all staff knew which Offenders were Listeners and gave clear guidance as to how they were able to have freedom to move around the establishment. In fact, this system became so successful we were able to fully implement it throughout the prison to enable the prison to have a free-flow movement system.
The Listener scheme within Kennet continues to flourish and develop in such a way, that self-harm statistics are very low compared with other comparative prisons. I take a great deal of satisfaction from this as I believe that we mirror the level of service that the Samaritans are able to provide in the wider community, but in a custodial setting. I ensured that the Samaritans free-phone number was advertised on the reverse of the Offenders identification card and this would ensure that any Offender who was in crisis was able to ring the Samaritans without alerting staff or other Offenders to the fact that he was doing so. As a direct result, a large number of establishments now have the free-phone number on the reverse of their establishment identification cards and this has raised Offenders’ awareness about how they are able to contact the Samaritans in a confidential manner.
[The following article appeared in issue 4 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Scott Boal of HMP Kennet has been commended for his work as safer custody and violence reduction manager, which has had a profound effect on the culture across the prison. Since joining the prison in 2007, Scott has been instrumental in establishing an agenda that ensures people are protected from violence and harm to an extent rarely seen in a custody setting, with the establishment earning a level four rating for safety, extremely unusual for a category C establishment. Based in the induction unit, he works closely with departments across the prison, and has also established systems and raised awareness to dramatically reduce levels of self-harm.
For more information: contact HMP Kennet