A new how-to guide
The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) Advice and Information Service receives over 6000 enquiries per year from currently serving prisoners about prison life, prison conditions and their rights in prison. It provides information to help people understand the experiences they are having in prison, who they can go to for support and how to challenge any treatment which they think is not fair or decent.
However, over the last 18 months PRT has been researching ways to help prisoners get this sort of information themselves; the result is a new Toolkit which helps prisons set up peer-led information services.
The toolkit is based on visits to staff and prisoners who are running these services in many different prisons. It has collated examples of good practice and sets out a step by step guide to setting up a peer led service information service in a prison.
PRT are keen to emphasise that this sort of peer-led prison information service are not about setting up or running resettlement advice services, but only about dealing with in-prison issues – specifically helping prisoners and staff to get easier access to the information which should govern in-prison decisions, and the means to challenge those decisions appropriately when necessary.
The toolkit starts by setting out a helpful guide to the benefits of a peer led information service for management, prisoners and staff and hopes to tackle any resistance:
Benefits to management
- Prisoners and staff are better able to recognise and adhere to correct procedures.
- Concerns are resolved in good time, and potentially before complaint stage.
- Regular problems raised to management level through consultation and monitoring reports.
- Helps fulfil duty to ensure access to Prison Rules and Prison Service Instructions.
- Effective option for dissemination of general update and other information.
- Encourages culture of transparency and active citizenship within prisons.
- Good demonstration for inspections- peer led information services have been praised by HMIP in previous inspections and the annual report.
Benefits to prisoners
- Prisoners can gain an understanding of the systems and conditions they are living in through easy access to Prison Rules and Prison Service Instructions.
- Prisoners can identify when their treatment is fair or unfair and know when it is appropriate and worthwhile to raise an issue.
- Prisoners are better able to navigate the often complex procedures that prisons operate under.
- Prisoners delivering the service are empowered through meaningful work experience.
Benefits to staff
- Access to information often helps resolve issues when prisoners can see that decisions are supported by Prison Service Instructions. This can help to reduce tension between prisoners and staff.
- When needed, staff can also use the service for reassurance about new instructions and instructions they are less familiar with.
- Resolving concerns early can improve relationships between staff and prisoners.
- Early resolution of issues and redirection of enquiries can free up staff time to focus on areas which make better use of their skills and training.
The toolkit goes on to explore a range of different models (application based services; telephone advice; prisoner information desks and prison library-based services) before setting out a 14-step plan to setting up the service summarised below:
- Determine the model
- Consult staff and prisoners
- Locate space depending on the needs of the model
- Decide and arrange ICT access – secure PC access (for writing responses, record-keeping and report making), printer, scanner/photocopier and telephone.
- Ensure access to Prison Service Instructions and Orders
- Allocate staff support
- Make sure that peers receive relevant training
- Outline the purpose and procedures of the service – and publicise
- Define the role, create job descriptions and decide eligibility
- Uniform – consider whether peer workers should be end identifiable by a lanyard or coloured T-shirt
- Screening and recruitment of peer advisers
- Induction & training of new advisers
- Promoting the service
- Supporting and reviewing the service
The toolkit goes on to cover common challenges and risks – mainly around safeguarding and confidentiality and making sure the right prisoners are recruited as peer advisers before providing a comprehensive list of recommended information and advice resources.
This is an excellent resource from the Prison Reform Trust which, with its emphasis on transparency, fairness and prisoner-staff collaboration, is exactly the sort of initiative which can help drive prison reform on the ground.
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