Maidstone Prisoners and Staff to Vote for their own Representatives

Maidstone Prisoners and Staff to Vote for their own Representatives

PRESS RELEASE UNDER EMBARGO: 00.01am 8th February 2011

User Voice, who developed a new model of Prison Council last year, is working with HM Prison Maidstone, which has an integrated population of both sex offenders and foreign nationals, to build their own democratic system inside.

User Voice, which is largely staffed and led by ex-offenders, has delivered a number of training sessions in the lead up to the election on 8 February. Prisoners have been trained in public speaking by a professional trainer and received campaigning tips and advice from local councillor, Mike FitzGerald.

In total 35 prisoners have put themselves forward as prison council candidates, representing four parties focused on tackling key issues across the wider prison community: The Resettlement Party, The Community and Environment Party, The Education and Training Party and The Diversity and Equality Party.

The User Voice Prison Council model emphasises the democratic process and the need for candidates to campaign on collective issues that impact on both prisoners and staff and the smooth running of the prison. This involves assessing candidates’ and party members’ skills, supporting them in developing campaign materials and speeches.

The Election on 8 February, in which both staff and prisoners will be able to vote, will be supported by Maidstone Council Registration Services and Maidstone Council Chief Executive, Alison Broome, who has agreed to be the Returning Officer, announcing the outcome of the election.

Mark Johnson, Founder of User Voice, said:

It is not always easy empowering some of the most chaotic and marginalised groups in society and it doesn’t always work. But when it does the benefits are invaluable and I commend Governor Andy Hudson for embracing this innovative approach. User Voice has demonstrated that this model can have significant results with previous Councils resulting in a 37% reduction in complaints and the use of segregation falling from 160 to 47 days. And more importantly, if people who are at the sharp end of the system are not equipped to lead successful lives then we will never reduce re-offending. And it’s not so hard to find out what’s needed: you just have to ask them.

Andy Hudson, Governor of HMP Maidstone, said:

In Maidstone prison we pride ourselves on the positive staff/prisoner relationships that exist and I am convinced that proper engagement between staff and prisoners is key to running an effective prison focusing on reducing re-offending. It is worth highlighting that prisons are not about making good prisoners – they are about making good citizens. Working in partnership with User Voice has given a new opportunity for prisoners within the prison to have an impact on what we are doing to reduce their risk of re-offending. How people are treated has a direct impact on how they behave and I am keen to run a prison regime based on responsibility, tolerance, decency, courtesy and humanity. This is all in support of the notion of making good citizens and encompasses the User Voice principle that ‘only offenders can stop re-offending’.

ENDS

Notes to Editor:

• Voting on election day, 8th February, will take place between 8.30am and 12.30pm with the result announced from 2pm. To attend please contact Daniel Hutt on 020 7968 2740 or daniel@uservoice.org.

• User Voice’s work is led and delivered by ex-offenders. It exists to reduce offending by working with the most marginalised people in and around the criminal justice system to ensure that practitioners and policy-makers hear their voices. For more information, see User Voice.

• User Voice Councils can be developed for use within prisons or in the community for probation, youth offending teams and other related services. For more information on User Voice’s Council model, see The Power Inside.

• HM Prison Maidstone is a Category C Training Prison that works in partnership through a multi agency approach to provide a safe, decent and constructive regime that challenges offending behaviour, reduces re-offending and prevents further victims. HMP Maidstone is the Sex Offender Delivery Centre for Kent & Sussex. The aim is to create a therapeutic environment that supports, embraces and empowers change with a primary focus on risk reduction and public protection. Maidstone is also a centre for Category C Foreign National Prisoners with more than 18 months left to serve, and provides liaison & forums with the UK Border Agency.