Prison Governor reflections two years in

Tuesday 6 April 2021 is the date we found ourselves on an empty freight ferry to Jersey.

Ready to isolate at an unfamiliar address with three children, a dog and a husband who had spent 22 years deploying in the military. This was to ensure that, coming from the UK, we did not put the islanders of Jersey at threat of the potential spread of Covid.

We finally got our third negative set of PCR results on the evening of Friday, 16 April, then joined my prison officers in a queue for our first covid vaccines on Saturday, 17 April and arrived ready for duty in a new prison, HMP La Moye, on Monday, 19 April.

I was not new to finding my way around another prison and starting fresh, La Moye being the 9th prison I’ve worked with in England and Wales. Apart from the readjustment to Jersey and settling the family in, my first few days at La Moye did leave me wondering whether I had done the right thing and setting myself an (at the time) seemingly ambitious personal goal of seeing out a full two years in this role.

It was not the people, the people at La Moye really are exceptional. The staff I met when I arrived could not have been kinder, more welcoming, more professional, or more committed to what they did. My shock was at the lack of process, both in the prison and in relation to other support functions. The prison was separate from any other department in Government and detached from working with other jurisdictions and up to date literature on ‘What Works’.

The prison was a safe, decent and secure prison and this is due to the work of the staff and the leadership here. It was however very focused on the prisoner’s time spent in custody and controlling risks within the establishment, which had felt like a distraction from making balanced decisions about ensuring individuals do not become institutionalised and maintain a focus around preparing for release.

One of my early external meetings was an invitation from the Chief of Probation and aftercare services, Mike Cutland. His opening words were “Welcome to Jersey, we are going to work very closely together”, and we certainly have. That was the beginning of our work to build a joint strategy around Reducing Reoffending in Jersey and focusing on the 7 pathways which are known to support effective resettlement of prisoners and reduce the likelihood of them coming back to prison.

The work led to a cross-Government launch event later that year and continues to be the foundation of the work that we do in prison in preparing individuals for release. We have engaged prisoners, as service users, in the co-design of the strategy and are now beginning to role this out with prison officers and the way that they work as ‘personal officers’ with prisoners, in conjunction with probation officers, and in coaching them to focus on successful release.

In the time I’ve been in Government, a lot has changed, as well as a change in senior leadership in the civil service and change of Government itself. Justice and Home Affairs was a very new department then and it has been a privilege to be part of the journey of it embedding, under the leadership of Chief Officer, Kate Briden.

The prison had gaps, absences and temporary promotions at the highest levels, and a management structure that didn’t make much sense to me and relied on most decisions being differed to the Prison Governor.

We have worked really hard on structures, processes and culture and I am delighted in the senior team we have formed in this time. We’re continuing to develop, looking at the best way our recruitment, promotion and succession planning can work for our people.

As well as working on the objectives set for the prison and a commitment to #releasingbetterneighbours, we’ve been able to support other departments by seconding out some of our best people and are really beginning to experience the benefit of this. It’s created a wonderful opportunity for our people as they return to work in the prison, bringing their skills with them, and to grow potential future home grown leaders of the prison service here in Jersey, as part of our succession planning for many years to come.

In additional to my work in the prison, as a family we have been very involved in the building of a new church congregation in St Marks Church Jersey. My children are beginning to thrive with the educational and sporting opportunities available on the island, and I have very much enjoyed being invited to talk to a whole range of organisations and institutions about our work in the prison, principles of rehabilitation and careers in public service. I am quite overwhelmed with the interest that the people of Jersey show in our journey at the prison and how much they care about what we do.

I am pleased to say that having achieved my two-year target to persevere in this role of Governor of La Moye, with all that we have achieved in the last couple of years in the prison, the people I work with an environment we work in, I am not looking to go anywhere else any time soon! We still have a lot to achieve, but we have every opportunity to provide Jersey with the most rehabilitative and successful prison in the world.

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