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Victoria Beck, Rachel Callandar, Pete Mills & Helen O’Connor (HMP Whatton)

COMMENDEES 2014-15: Victoria, Rachel, Pete and Helen receive a Commendation for their work, as part of a multi-disciplinary team, in pioneering a treatment programme for deaf sexual offenders at HMP Whatton, the first in a custodial setting.

Victoria BeckRachelCallandarPeteMillsHelenO’ConnorSmallVictoria Beck, Rachel Callander, Pete Mills and Helen O’Connor of HMP Whatton’s Offending Behaviour Programmes Team, have together pioneered the first treatment programme ever undertaken in a custodial setting for deaf sexual offenders.

A great deal of ‘behind the scenes’ work was involved in delivering this ground-breaking project. Pete Mills, as Programmes Manager, already had substantial existing responsibilities. These included not only running and managing the busiest Offending Behaviour Programmes department in the country but also piloting another initiative, the first Thinking Skills Programme aimed at sexual offenders with learning difficulties. (Mick Pykett, formerly of HMP Whatton, was a 2012-13 Butler Trust Award winner for his work in this field).

Nevertheless, Pete provided management and support to enable the programme to go ahead, including liaising with Psychological Services and the Governor, as well as securing funding for, and helping select, British Sign Language interpreters to support it.

Meanwhile, months before the programme was due to start, Vicky, Helen and Rachel set about learning British Sign Language (BSL), too – a considerable commitment and effort undertaken in their own time.

There were further barriers to be overcome because BSL has limitations in terms of some of the concepts requiring examination in this work. So the team set about developing new visual materials which needed to be understandable not only to the group members on the programme, but also to the BSL interpreters who were supporting it.

The team also travelled to see men in other establishments and researched their suitability for the programme, says nominator Alan Beesley, Programmes Manager at HMP Whatton, as well as “conducting interviews in new and insightful ways.”

During 2012 Vicky and Helen ran the first programme, while Rachel “worked tirelessly” with them to develop and deliver a second programme, designed to build on learning from the pilot and first course.

An important benefit of this work, highlighted by Gerry Bishop, Head of Public Protection at HMP Whatton, is intrinsic to the fact that many of the participants are on indeterminate sentences. “Without the existence of this course these prisoners would continue to languish in prison with little or no means of evidencing progress to the parole board.”

Furthermore, Gerry points out, the team’s innovative work makes a vital contribution to enabling “the prison service to meet the equality agenda.” By bringing the kind of intervention available to other prisoners to deaf or otherwise hearing-impaired offenders, research measures showed “identified noticeable shifts with regards to identifying and developing insight into risk areas.”

Some of the prisoners own remarks confirm the personal impact of this work. “I am pushing old me away, working things out myself, looking forward to the future,” said one. Other prisoner feedback included “I’m going to be strong; I’m going to go on a straight path,” and “I feel much more confident, 110% I’m going to do it…”

The team have also taken steps to raise their profile with other organisations and to share good practice, including through the Whatton Conference for the last 2 years, visits to Rampton Secure Hospital to exchange ideas, and links forged with the University of Birmingham and Nottingham Trent University.

Pete is lauded for pushing ahead with a project described as “a nightmare to set up” and ensuring the Correctional Services Accreditation Panel were satisfied with the course. Helen, a trainee psychologist, is credited for “her integrity and empathy”, and her pivotal role as a facilitator, including learning BSL to Level 2. Rachel, also a trainee psychologist, has been involved in Programmes work for almost a decade, and brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role, and also learned BSL to Level 2. Vicky, a Prison Officer and an experienced facilitator in delivering courses to prisoners with learning disabilities, took her BSL training to Level 3, and brought her interpersonal skills and proactive ethos to bear. It should be clear, however, that that their achievementforging an entirely new space in custodial treatment – is greater than the sum of their (already impressive) parts.


[Rachel Callander gives her account of the work for which they won their Commendation]

Staff at HMP Whatton have been developing and delivering a rehabilitation programme for sexual offenders with hearing impairments, the first of its kind in a custodial setting. The aim of this work was to help this group to understand their offending and develop skills that will prevent them from reoffending in the future, thereby protecting the public.

In 2014/15 the Butler trust recognised a multidisciplinary team of 2 forensic psychologists in training, a prison officer specialist and programmes manager for their pioneering rehabilitation work with sexual offenders with hearing impairments. This is the first work of its kind in the Prison Service. The project was a massive undertaking being implemented on top of the departments existing commitment providing the highest number of places per year nationally for sex offender treatment. This work was begun as it was recognised that there is a growing number of sexual offenders with hearing impairments in the prison system, that due to their disability are not able to access treatment to address their offending. The team’s expertise and commitment has allowed a group of individuals to lower their risk of re-offending, progress through their sentence and improve their ability to live an offence free life.

The programmes manager was responsible for selecting the appropriate staff for the programme. These were facilitators that were experienced in working with offenders with Intellectual Difficulties (ID) and those that were experienced in the use of British sign language (BSL) and had knowledge of ‘deaf culture’. It was also the role of the programmes manger to secure funding for the use of registered British Sign Language interpreters before interviewing and selecting a pool of interpreters, who would work with the facilitators in sessions. This required significant planning, negotiation and communication skills.

The role of the facilitators was to select the most appropriate offenders to undertake the programme. These were individuals who were taking responsibility for their offending and were motivated to complete work on this. The facilitators then had to gather information about these offenders using comprehensive interviews and file searches. These were significant pieces of work in their own right, each taking on average three times longer than with hearing individuals due to the process of interpretation. This work was crucial to the overall success of the project as it allowed the facilitators to understand the background of each offender, get an over view of their offending and begin to develop a working relationship. These are important in the delivery of effective sex offender treatment. Also it allowed the facilitators to develop an understanding of some of the factors that led each group member to offend; this meant that the treatment programme could be tailored to address these. This work required the facilitators to have a sound understanding of the theory behind sexual offending, something which is developed over many years of working in this area.

The facilitators were then responsible for the delivery of the programme, in excess of 140 hours of treatment. This firstly involved the preparation of session material, which had to be adapted to ensure that the interpreters were able to communicate the concepts to the group members. Secondly the sessions had to be delivered, this required the use of creativity, communication skills, the ability to work with others and confidence to try a range of techniques to ensure that the group members were learning from the session. The facilitators also had to utilise their communication skills after sessions to document the progress of each group member and provide ongoing support. The responsibility to document progress is a key area of work as for many group members this will be used later in their sentence to make decisions about whether they need to complete further work or are safe to be released into the community.

I have worked as a Forensic Psychologist in Training for the Prison Service based at HMP Whatton since 2004. During this time a major part of my role has been delivering a range of treatment programmes for sexual offenders. In 2008 I was offered the chance to learn British Sign Language, which was always something that had interested me after previously working with children with Intellectual Disabilities. Over the course of a few years I successfully achieved qualifications in Level One and Two in BSL. When I was asked to be involved in the delivery of treatment for sexual offenders with hearing impairments I was nervous about my ability to communicate with this group but excited about the challenges that this involved. I was one of a team of three facilitators and our role was to work together to deliver a programme that has been accredited for use with sexual offenders to a group with hearing impairments.

I was able to contribute to the project in a number of ways. I am a very organised person so I was able to utilise these skills to ensure that pre group assessments were carried out on time and that the sessions were planned to make sure the programme came to an end at the appropriate point. I also have a great deal of knowledge and experience in working with sexual offenders. I was able to use this when completing pre group assessments and during sessions to ensure that the work being completed was focused on areas that research has linked to sexual offending. I have the ability to work well with others, this was particularly important as this work involved working with colleagues, outside agencies (BSL interpreters) and most importantly the group members.

The outcome of this work was that 4 offenders with hearing impairments were able to access treatment to help them understand what led to them committing their offence. More importantly it gave them the opportunity to learn skills that they will be able to use in the future to ensure that they do not commit further offences. It meant that for the first time they could demonstrate to the Parole Board that they had done a programme to lower their risk of reoffending and had been given the same access to rehabilitation services as others.

Focusing on myself, being involved in this work has helped me to develop both professionally and personally. Professionally it has further developed my skills as a facilitator, increased my confidence in my abilities, given me broader communication skills and improved my creativity, to name but a few. On a personal level it has increased my self confidence in a more general sense.

The success of this work has had an impact on others working in the Prison. Within the programmes department it has highlighted where other programmes lack accessibility and prompted developments in these areas. Others have also expressed their interest in being involved in this work in the future. Within the wider prison, delivering a programme to sexual offenders with hearing impairments has been a point of intrigue. This has been a positive as it has raised awareness of the difficulties faced by this group in a prison environment and raised questions about how best to work with this group to ensure their needs are being met in the same way as hearing offenders.

The programme was successful for a number of reasons. The skills and commitment of the staff involved (both prison based and interpreters) played a significant role in this. Also the ability to be flexible when something was not working, brave enough to try new things and learn from each session. The work was also supported by the more senior managers of the department and the Governor of the prison. Support from other professionals, such as offender supervisors and wing staff grew as the programme progressed. This indicates that good communication was also an important factor in the success of the programme.

Whilst one of the factors that led to the success of this programme being effectively delivered was communication with other professionals, communication was also one of the biggest challenges this work was faced with. The individuals in the group each had their own communication style, some communicating only in sign language and others relying on lip reading and verbal skills. This was overcome by allowing each individual to use their preferred communication style and ensuring that everyone was able to access the information being shared, had time to process this and contribute to sessions.

Good practice was an important part of this project from the outset. For example, this was evident in the decision to utilise registered BSL interpreters, at a significant financial cost. This was one of many lessons that had been learned from previous one to one work with an individual with a hearing impairment. Another way that good practice was instilled in this project was by liaising with other non correctional settings that were working with individuals with hearing impairments. From this we were able to take ideas that would work in the prison, for example having time set aside for group members to be able to communicate about day to day issues. In relation to the delivery of the programme, this was undertaken with the attitude that in the future further programmes would be run with groups of hearing impaired individuals. With this in mind visual aids were created that could be used in future groups, detailed debriefs were completed to discuss and record information about what exercises worked well and if exercises had not worked why this was and what would have been done to improve it. The team also remained open to feedback from the interpreters, the group members and other prison staff. Following the completion of the programme research was commissioned to evaluate the effectiveness of the work. Using the outcomes of this research is another way that good practice can be maintained in future programmes.

This team’s commitment to good practice has resulted in the successful delivery of the first rehabilitation programme for sexual offenders with hearing impairments. This work has been achieved following a combination of years of ongoing preparatory work and the ability to develop and plan and put this into action, despite significant challenges.

For me, what has been important about this work is that sexual offenders with hearing impairments have been able to access a service that they were previously unable to as a result of their disability. I would like to develop this aspect of good practice by using the learning from this work and applying it to other rehabilitation programmes to continue to increase accessibility for all.

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