This is the sixteenth in a series of guest posts written by ex-offenders who have turned their lives around and now work, in one way or another, in the criminal justice sector. Paul Tye talks about how he used the skills he took into prison to develop peer networks and how many prisoners could work supporting each other on release.
A failing system
So entering HMP as a client was always going to be interesting. I’d spent the previous 15 years running services that supported the men I was now locked up with. I was a business development manager for a criminal justice and substance misuse charity. My work over time was to bring change to failing systems by involving service users in all aspects of service design and delivery where appropriate. This was supported by a clear strategy which commissioners and providers could follow, with the scope for local interpretation. It was a framework. With all services signed up to a common cause. All, that is, but the Prison Service. They did not come out from behind their walls to attend local or regional meetings. They often had our clients longer than we did, but they were held in suspension until we got a call asking us to pick up prescribing for someone been released that day.
Not so long ago I got three years for the production of cannabis. I entered prison knowing at the time there was talk of radical change to the justice system. The Queen announced it to parliament. We need change but no one was sure what that change should look like plus everyone seems pre-occupied with Brexit.
Developing training for peer support
I sat in my cell thinking they are a lot of lads in here supporting their peers. I asked one of the wing insiders what type of training or progression plan they have. None or very little I was told. When I had people working under me in community projects, they all had to have basic training at least and a progression plan, this was called supervision and appraisal. The prison was missing a trick, with change these men are capable of education and training and many jobs in the community could be filled with trained men leaving prison. They could work at all points of contact with the in the criminal justice system, police station, courts, prison reception and into the wings. Then on release. Through the gate. Maybe this would form a strong support network and develop links with the community. The big partners could attend locality meetings and the providers could be commissioned to work with each other. The commissioners could even talk to those receiving service.
I was lucky and persistent and in the right place at the right time and ended up setting up a peer-led project called The Humber Pilots. The governor at the time was a forward thinking man who had the courage to invest in the people in his care, to believe that they could change and help each other along the way. So he allowed me to train the prison council and gave me support and resources to move people forward. The lads who already helped their peers got better training and better pay.
Hoping for a better future
Now I am out of prison, my day job is installing data systems for businesses but I’m still trying to make a different for those still inside.
Rehabilitation has fallen by the wayside under the banner of austerity. I wonder how much longer can we deliver a service that does not work? The prison population is growing. The staff I met were not happy with their jobs, often poorly trained with little in the form of career opportunities. Many were looking to leave the prison service.
I now sit on an advisory group that has spent two years coming up with a blue print for better service provision. My old probation officer has asked me to speak to his colleagues about the Humber Pilots and I have just been asked to attend an interview with a charity that supports offenders.
Maybe things are starting to look up again…