Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEES 2016-17: Tracey, from Police Scotland, and Gordon, Operations Manager at HMP Edinburgh, are Commended for their ‘Meet the Police’ initiative, promoting improved relationships between prisoners’ families and the police.
Tracey Gunn and Gordon Roy have developed the ‘Meet the Police’ initiative, centred on HMP Edinburgh, designed to encourage better relationships between prisoners’ children and the police – and it’s a ground-breaking world first. Its success means there are already plans for ‘Meet the Police’, and the related ‘My Daddy and the Police’ booklet developed by prisoners themselves, to be rolled out across the 15 prisons in Scotland.
Nominator John Shanks, Acting Operation Unit Manager at Edinburgh, explains that this joint organisation initiative “has promoted in a positive way the essential work which police and prison service deliver. Often those in custody can have an existing misperception or distrust of police and prison staff.” Not only has the ‘Meet the Police’ initiative “broken down these barriers and built bridges with a wide spectrum of individuals”, it’s also helped forge “new positive relationships with some of those in custody.”
‘Meet the Police’ involves a variety of friendly and interactive activities for children, who are encouraged to sit in a police vehicle, interact with a police dog – and to speak freely to police and prison staff. “This has had a tremendously positive influence in changing peoples perceptions and opinions”, says John.
Tracey Gunn, Police Scotland’s links police officer for HMP Edinburgh, worked with the prisoners, “in what was initially described as a very hostile and tense environment”, encouraging them to think about the type of life and aspirations they had for their children. “It was at this point that all members of the group said they wanted better for their kids and despite their own very negative experiences, they saw the value of working with the police.” Gordon Roy, Acting Head of Operations for HMP Edinburgh, helped procure funding and resources to support events, and championed the involvement of Scottish Prison Service (SPS) staff. Tracey championed the project within Police Scotland, who have been highly supportive, and went on to acknowledge the group’s initiative with its own award for partnership working.
Local Butler Trust Champion and Edinburgh’s HR Business Partner, Liz Fraser, explains that the ‘Meet the Police’ initiative “has been developed as part of the HMP Edinburgh Visitor Centre’s community engagement strategy [which is] premised upon the understanding that criminogenic experiences and environments are disproportionately characterised by adverse educational experiences/negative attainment, health inequalities, and general socio-economic disadvantage.”
Responses from the prisoners have been powerful, as they have “taken ownership”. One said simply, “Kids need to know the police are there to help”, while another wrote “This project will be good if its gonnae help the bairns coz a lot of them are vulnerable coz of what they’ve been told [about the police] so if this helps then it will be good.”
Another was honest about his own background, even while seeing the value of the project: “I grew up in Easterhouse and I hated them, but I still would want my weans to go to them if they got hurt… that’s the message I want to get across by being involved in this.”
Edinburgh’s Governor in Charge, Caroline Johnston, Governor in Charge, praises the project as “an excellent example of collaborative working which seeks to engage positively with those families affected by imprisonment.”
The team reports that “not only did the prisoners take ownership of the “My Daddy and the Police” booklet, including meeting with the graphic designer… they were so passionate about it, and insisted that the design and printing costs were paid for from their common good fund instead of by Police Scotland or Scottish Prison Service.” Scottish Minister for Childhood and Early Years, Mark McDonald, describing the booklet as “fundamentally ground-breaking”, launched it in August 2016 at HMP Edinburgh in the presence of the prisoners and their families. This was a first of its kind not just in Scotland but worldwide.
The endorsement by Scottish Prison Service Chief Executive, Colin McConnell, has helped propel it to a wider audience, not only across Scotland but farther afield, including the Irish Prison Service.
The degree of passion the project has evoked among prisoners is highlighted by the case of one prisoner, currently serving a life sentence, who is “championing this cause in the hope that he can give something back to the community. He is prepared to endure the hardship of moving from jail to jail in order to continue to promote the positive aspects of challenging negative misconception about the police that children may have.” The team also hopes to go further with the project by commissioning a short film.
This highly innovative project has clearly captured a lot of imaginations – not least those of the children involved so far – and offers a hopeful way forward in terms of dialogue and understanding in Scotland and beyond.