Lifting the lid on HMP Norwich to teenagers could help solve staffing crisis

Andrea Black, deputy governor at HMP Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Andrea Black, deputy governor at HMP Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Students given unique access 'behind the wall' at HMP Norwich are ready to sign up as apprentices in the midst of a staffing crisis in the sector.

Liz Truss, left, justice secretary, with the deputy governor Andrea Black, during her visit to HMP N

Liz Truss, left, justice secretary, with the deputy governor Andrea Black, during her visit to HMP Norwich at the Café Britannia. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Justice Secretary Liz Truss met six City College students as they completed a week at the prison in a pioneering scheme to engage with youngsters, in the backdrop of serious concerns over safety and offending across the estate.

Less than two weeks ago 60 members of staff at the Knox Road facility protested over health and safety concerns, but after having the lid lifted on the facility, the six teenagers are keen to sign up for work.

Andrea Black, deputy governor of HMP Norwich, said a 'link with the community' was vital in turning things around. 'Staff are tired and we are struggling but we have a really good group who are determined to make it work,' she said. 'That said we urgently need to get people on the landings. What we are trying to do is allow people to have an understanding of what life is really like inside a prison. They can see we are a community here and if we can encourage them to join us that's great.

'We need to get more engagement with places like charities and link it up with social policy. It doesn't matter what we do inside prison unless we have that link with the community. We have to have a cultural shift, because we can't do this alone.'

Plans to recruit 2,500 extra prison staff and give more autonomy to governors were announced earlier this month.

Miss Truss said the pilot scheme at HMP Norwich should be mirrored across the country.

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'Schemes like this work experience are so vital because prisons are necessarily behind closed walls,' she said. 'What we are also doing is getting rid of a lot of the minor rules in prisons that have been holding governors back, and giving them more say over what happens in the prisons. We are getting rid of a lot of the petty rules that have frustrated people from doing their jobs. Every governor I meet has come in to the job because they want to turn people's lives around and we need to give them the freedom to do that. 'The probation service is also incredibly important and we will shortly be making announcements about the next step forward. We will be launching a new employment plan next year looking at training people up so people can go from prison into a job. If they do that they are much less likely to re-offend.'

The Justice Secretary and Prisons Minister, Sam Gyimah, are visiting prisons across England and Wales nationwide to engage with and listen to prison officers and governors on the frontline.

Last month, the Justice Secretary announced an extra £14 million for extra resources at ten of the most challenging prisons in England and Wales. This will mean an extra 400 staff in the coming months to help curbs rising levels of violence and self-harm fuelled by dangerous psychoactive substances. We are well on the way to recruiting these staff and have already made almost 200 job offers.

Patrick Setters, who worked at Norwich Prison before joining City College Norwich as a Lecturer in Public Services said: 'There is a recruitment shortage for prison staff and this is one way of helping to address that. It is useful for students who are thinking of progressing onto our Public Services degree course, as it has shown them the reality of management in a large public service organisation. In the long-term will recruit dedicated staff who are aware of the challenges and therefore retain staff.'

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