Jane Gould Smith

Decompression from prison to freedom. A practical, simple solution.

Jane Gould Smith


Last week, we looked at the shock of release from prison & the glaring need for pre-release decompression.

I’ve written before about Jubilee Wing – a fantastically innovative and brave initiative at HMP Guys Marsh, using former D Cat accommodation. own rooms with en suite facilities and their own keys; but still within closed C Cat conditions.

No tannoy. The chance to take responsibility for themselves and others. Getting up for work on time. Thinking ahead to their future life. Individual issues and planning for them. Normalising and decompressing from prison life and behaviours.

So I thought it was time to revisit, and remind ourselves about a no-cost solution that worked.

Men were accepted onto the programme by interview and reference. Jubilee prisoners became community residents with individual and corporate responsibilities.

Interventions were initiated by peer mentor leaders and Wing Staff were seconded specifically to this wing. In July 2015, Jubilee recorded 243 interventions – from education and training courses to accommodation and employment. Some interventions were internal; some external. Some were jointly enabled by staff and peer mentors.

Community meetings took place regularly. Corporate responsibility was a theme.

Appropriate “outside” behaviours were addressed – residents knocked on office doors. Said please and thank you. There was noticeably less defensiveness. Possibly because they felt they mattered as individuals, at last.

Jubilee mimicked, as far as possible, the conditions of a hostel, with residents caring for themselves and each other. Organising their own rota to keep the place clean. Not fighting over the communal toasters. Respecting each other by not playing music or TVs too loudly and other basic practice in thinking of others.

The highlights of the week were Curry Night and Jubilee Breakfast on a Saturday morning – full English and then some – cooked by residents and eaten communally. The Jubilee officers were invited and often came in specially out of hours to socialise and chat informally.

Residents progressed with privileges from top to lower floor rooms. But anyone expecting a sinecure or rights without responsibilities was in for a disappointment.

Each individual was given every opportunity to prepare himself for all aspects of life on the outside; but flouting the Jubilee guidelines could mean being busted back to life on the main prison wings.

Into the mix came Clean Sheet with our Ways to Work employability session, preceded by half an hour of microwave cooking. One Jubilee officer was great at digging out new microwave recipes – always something sweet – shortbread, sponge cakes, flapjacks and meringues – that the group could make in pairs, and then enjoy half way through the afternoon.

Most interesting of all, men were allowed and encouraged to ‘phone up the Jubilee officers after leaving the prison; if they were having a wobbly moment or if something good happened or if they simply wanted a chat.

It has always seemed crazy to me that the very people who invest so much time, energy and commitment into their charges, then have contact severed once they leave and have no way of finding out how they are doing, until they turn up in the system again. More walls within walls.

Jubilee Wing was zero-cost to set up and run. NOMS in their day apparently loved it.

Michael Gove, in his ten minutes as Secretary of State for Justice “got” it. Jubilee was showing some excellent results.

Their reoffending rate was just 11% after 18 months. 11%!!!

Sadly, TR and other issues all hampered the programme; and with it, the opportunity for more men to have a fighting chance of a proper & sustainable life outside jail.

The Jubilee Project not only needs reviving; it needs taking up and rolling out prison by prison by the inventor of this system who had the nerve to hammer out the blueprint and fought for the men every inch of the way.

It’s simple, cheap and effective. And addresses this problem of stepping out of the prison gate and off a cliff edge. What more could anyone want?

Next blog… More ideas for pre-release decompression…

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