This year for RJ week we are shining the spotlight on our members and the valuable work that many of them do in the field of Restorative Justice. Our first blog comes from members, Restorative Solutions CIC and focuses on their Restorative Prison programme applying restorative approaches within the prison community. If you are interested in finding out more about Restorative Solutions please get in touch, or visit their website - http://www.restorativesolutions.org.uk/

 

Restorative Prison in Action

Gary Stephenson

Chief Executive Restorative Solutions CIC

Alongside our services to support victims in accessing restorative justice we have been exploring the concept of the Restorative Prison (RP).  This has been piloted at HMP Buckley Hall, a public-sector prison, and HMP Peterborough, a private sector prison, and has provided significant learning opportunities for all those involved which I thought would be of interest to you in this significant week.

Through creating a Restorative Prison we have applied a Restorative Approach (RA) to addressing and resolving conflict among prisoners, among staff, and between prisoners and staff. The individuals involved have developed a respect for the needs and feelings of others, a sense of responsibility for their own actions, and the ability to reflect upon how their actions can affect others in their community.

We managed the pilot which was funded by the Monument Trust and will be evaluated by Birkbeck College University of London. Our input involves awareness raising, developing a communications strategy with prisoners and staff, facilitating joint briefing and management meetings between staff and prisoners, senior leadership development, changes to internal processes, training, accreditation and assistance with integrating the approach throughout the whole of the prison.  The flexibility of the approach allows for it to be applied to all situations of conflict across the prison community, including families. 

Prisoners are learning to understand the vulnerability of others in their community. They are learning about the benefits of mutual respect and humility. They are equipped to intervene either formally or informally and they are recognising and relishing the empowered approach which trusts them to take the right decision and take the right action at the right time. This level of responsibility and trust is not a common feature in our prisons and great credit for this must be given to the senior leaders in the establishments we are working with.

The role of leadership is of key importance to the implementation and sustainability of the approach.  It is essential the senior leadership team in the establishment, along with prisoners and staff, are fully committed to what can be described as a 'transformative' approach. Prisoners have demonstrated leadership and courage by stepping forward and volunteering to be RA practitioners, they have demonstrated that they are able to earn the respect of their peers and staff.  This ability to lead, manage change, positively influence and gain the respect of others, whilst serving a sentence, is a notable achievement.

The attitude and enthusiasm from the prisoners is a standout feature of the programme. Many of them have complex issues and a troubled background but they have shown they are true role models with a can-do attitude and they have earned respect and admiration from others in their community.  These men and women have learnt a new set of diverse skills which includes empathy, emotional intelligence, facilitation, problem solving and the ability to listen.  These new skills will stand them in good stead for the future and assist with their reintegration back into society. 

The early collection of hard data shows that the typical cases are: verbal altercations, bullying, debt, assaults, drugs and fighting. In nearly fifty per cent of the cases, prisoners who are practitioners have been involved in the RA and, in just under a quarter of cases, a prisoner or prisoners resolve the issue without a staff member.

It is our ambition that once those we have trained in RA are sufficiently experienced practitioners, they will progress to achieving a Level 3 BTEC accreditation in Restorative Practice.  This would be a major achievement which could assist them in future professional development and potential future qualifications and employment in the field. Many of our practitioners who are prisoners have expressed an interest in continuing to practise once they are released and will be seeking opportunities in either a professional or voluntary capacity. 

As we celebrate International Restorative Justice Week, we should recognise the positive contribution that Restorative Approaches can make to assisting in changing the culture within the prison community and equipping those involved, particularly the prisoners, with the skills to change their own lives and the lives of others. A truly Restorative Prison ensures that staff and prisoners are empowered and trusted to resolve issues restoratively, either through an informal restorative conversation or a formal restorative conference. 


 

Disclaimer: This is a guest blog and the views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the Institute’s views.