Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2011-12: Teri, from the charity RECOOP, is granted a Commendation for her work on behalf of older prisoners at HMP Leyhill which is fully integrated with all aspects of the regime.
[Teri Walker gives her account of the work for which she was awarded a Commendation]
I was given a Butler Trust Commendation for enabling older prisoner needs to be uniquely met through the provision of a new centre for all those aged over 50 years at Leyhill prison. A range of purposeful activity is offered daily including relevant speakers. A joined up prison approach has also ensured purposeful activity has been initiated in other departments including Gymnasium sessions specifically for the older men. Raised awareness has brought older prisoners into mainstream thinking and services unique to them are now integrated into the prison environment.
I work for RECOOP, (Resettlement and care of older ex-offenders and prisoners) and joined HMP Leyhill in June 2009. The numbers of older people entering the criminal justice system has trebled in the past twenty years and now represent the fastest growing group of prisoners. We use the threshold of 50+ in working with older prisoners as there is substantial evidence to suggest that prisoners suffer greater health problems than the general population, with many of them having health characteristics typical of someone aged ten years older who is not in prison. Leyhill recognised the differences required in successfully integrating and rehabilitating older aged off enders and welcomed the additional expertise of an outside organisation dedicated in its remit to the older aged prison population. Leyhill part funded the Project manager post and offered substantial support in enabling new services to be developed.
In May 2010, RECOOP were given the opportunity to design and manage a new kind of Day centre provision for those who were retired and unable to work during the core day and to represent older prisoners (aged 50+) and their needs strategically throughout the prison. The emphasis for the centre has had a strong basis in the provision of purposeful activity designed to ensure both mind and body are kept active and productive. Our mission statement is;
This centre is for the use of those aged 50 and over. It serves to encourage purposeful activity and social interaction ensuring older prisoners develop skills and strategies to live purposefully and actively in prison and on release.
We offer a range of sessions from creative writing to gardening, from guided walks to stress busting workshops. All activities are designed to fit in with the pathways to reducing re-offending (See appendix 1) and some have additionally offered community engagement via local volunteers. The men themselves also have opportunity to run sessions or give a presentation on subjects of personal interest and/or life skills they have acquired.
In looking at the wider group of prisoners aged over 50 currently 30% of Leyhill’s population, it has been essential to offer varied and targeted assistance in promoting the social care and resettlement requirements of such a diverse group (age ranges from 50 -83 years old) I was able to organise an Information and Advice event for all older prisoners late last year. The event had 30 information tables including a wide range of external organisations such as Age UK, Citizens Advice Bureau, Alzheimer’s society, Managing Memory together, Housing associations, Link Networks and University of the 3rd age. It was also important to include relevant internal services such as prison visitor service, gymnasium and healthcare. This was the first event of its kind at Leyhill bringing the outside community in and with a strong focus on older age services. The event has been extremely well received by both prisoners and staff.
In order to ensure the wider target audience has access to support outside of the core working day, the centre now opens 4 evenings and a Saturday morning providing relevant activities, speakers, and Information and advice for all prisoners aged 50+ at Leyhill. We are continually looking at ways to open more hours and are considering a rota of prisoner volunteers for extra weekend hours.
In looking at effective management and care of older aged offenders, it is necessary to understand that more than 80% of older prisoners have long standing illnesses or disabilities, over 50% suffer from a mental disorder and 30% have a diagnosis of depression. By providing a wide range of purposeful activities and health management information as part of our programme as well as developing joined up ventures such as Gym sessions for the over 50’s, we intend to ensure the older prisoner population has a variety of initiatives and strategies to enable them to prioritise and take personal responsibility for their own physical and mental well-being. Many older prisoners have lost contact with friends and families and some have no visitors, the centre also provides a safe environment for structured social interaction.
Because of the nature of the offences that many older prisoners are serving at Leyhill, a core part of work is focused on risk management. Through the provision of the centre, we have been able to contribute widely to programmes run by offender management unit and psychology departments ranging from the sentinel programme for high risk sex offenders to parole boards. The environment enables behaviour both positive and negative to be observed in a way that often replicates future community involvement (on release older men may use community/day centres) Many of the men coming up for release have decided that some of the activities they enjoy at the centre are to be continued on the outside. Activities have been added to release plans and sourced on home visits.
It is hoped the continuation of such activities will enable a more structured and balanced life. It has been made clear by the users of the centre that opportunities to develop alternative strategies for when they are feeling low and/or depressed is imperative in avoiding substance misuse or other undesirable behaviours which may lead to re-offending. Sessions focusing on therapeutic writing, active gardening, and strategies for reducing stress and relaxation techniques have all been welcomed to help assist with this. Sessions on diet and Nutrition including how Food affects mood have also been deemed useful in living an active and crime free life.
In supporting older aged prisoners as effectively as possible, it is useful to involve the wider prison staff. I have arranged Falls Prevention and Dementia related training which prison officers have attended to ensure effective care is as cohesive as possible for older aged prisoners.
In ensuring older prisoner voices are heard, regular focus group around the pathways to reducing re-offending are held in the centre and look at different ways of addressing older prisoner needs in these areas.
I have offered to become a Diversity champion of “Age” at Leyhill (the only champion as I understand from a third party sector organisation) and ensure feedback channels from the men to the prison Diversity committee. I also have accepted a role on the resettlement committee for the older men which now incorporates a further older prisoner pathway ensuring that older prisoner’s needs and ideas are fed into the overall prison resettlement agenda. I represent and devise health and well-being initiatives via the Healthy Prisons committee. It is important if aiming for older prisoner resettlement and social care needs to be addressed that influence is far reaching and a great part of my work is ensuring successful healthy partnership work with many different individuals and departments within the prison.
Last Year we had a death in custody. The centre provided much needed support and an outlet for those men who cared for the deceased. RECOOP were able to put forward their views and opinions at multi-disciplinary meetings and at the debrief which focused on effective ways forward for the future in these situations.
Regular attendance figures for the centre top 600 signed in signatures per month with an average of 75 unique users. This means approx 50 %of those aged over 50 are regularly attending a figure deemed to be exceptionally high by prison management.
Open prisons by their very nature offer many alternatives and a large proportion of men work out or in the prison during the day. However, looking at events also held, the figures for unique users amount to over 100 therefore over two thirds of the over 50’s have accessed our services at the time of writing.
It is imperative to ensure we obtain as much data and feedback as possible if we are to continually evolve relevant effective services for the over 50’s at Leyhill. We regularly record feedback (see appendix 2) and have also conducted one to one sessions for regular users of the centre to ensure views and opinions are both recorded and acted upon. Quarterly reports are written to gage progress and distributed to Governors and RECOOP board.
Although RECOOP is an outside organisation, services for older prisoners at Leyhill are very much embedded as part of the regime. In partnership with HMP Leyhill, we continually look at ways of developing services in touch with the evolving needs of Older prisoners. Leyhill contribute funding to RECOOP to ensure our continued presence whilst RECOOP continually applies to relevant sources to obtain needed funding. We are currently awaiting the outcome of a significant funding bid.
[The following article appeared in issue 4 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Teri Walker has earned a commendation for developing services for older prisoners at HMP Leyhill. Working for RECOOP, a third sector organisation, she set up a centre for prisoners who are retired and unable to work. The centre, known as The Lobster Pot, offers all kinds of stimulating activities, centred on helping them adapt what they eat and how they exercise to continue to be healthy into old age.
The prison population at HMP Leyhill ranges from a small group of lifers who will probably never be released to men that are progressing towards release – some who have spent years in the institution and some who have only been away from the community for weeks or months. The lifers coming up for parole have credited the activities they have undertaken as being critical to their success upon release.
Beyond activities at The Lobster Pot, Teri has helped coordinate services for older people in other areas of the establishment, with the gym and library offering tailored services. Her input is sought by diverse groups making strategy decisions about prisoners and she is credited with ‘challenging us to look at things and do things differently, moving the concept of care for older prisoners to new levels that we could not possibly have imagined.’
For more information: contact HMP Leyhill
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