An impressive 64.4% of prisoners cast their vote in the HMP Maidstone election on Wednesday 15th March.
Together with the 41 staff members who voted, 386 of 599 prisoners took part on the day with men of all ages and nationalities turning out.
On a brilliantly sunny day in Maidstone, four parties were vying for seats on the Prison Council. The Equalities & Justice Party won the day with 192 votes, gaining 7 seats on the 15-seat Council. The Foreign National Labour Party came in second place with 4 seats, while the Resettlement Party and the Residential Party finished neck-and-neck with 2 seats apiece.
User Voice have facilitated a Prison Council in Maidstone since 2010 and the London and South East Engagement Team and prison staff worked effectively to ensure that this year’s Election ran smoothly. The mood on the day was positive and conversations animated. As prisoners gathered in the Chapel courtyard to cast their vote inside, current and former Council members spoke about the importance of ‘building a legacy’ and ‘leaving something positive for the future generations’ in a prison where the population is transitional.
Collaboration emerged as one of the themes of the day. The Equalities & Justice Party secretary voiced the view of many when he said, ‘Our voices can be heard. The governors actually listen to us. We’re changing the prison environment and helping people.’
Governor Atkinson reflected on the co-operative spirit of the Council system: ‘The Council’s proposals are for the better of the prison population, of the prison environment, and of the prison staff. For me it’s got to be a win-win situation.’
He also focussed on the Council’s key role as a partner for the Prison Governors: ‘I don’t see the Council members as prisoners, I see them as partners like RAPT and healthcare. Their contributions are just as big as the contributions our other partners are making.’
The Election also afforded an opportunity to celebrate the Council’s success in 2016. A recruitment drive was undertaken for Samaritans listeners, food and shower facilities have improved, and the Council has produced an Independent Immigration Advice Leaflet given to every prisoner on induction – proudly on show besides the ballot boxes in the Chapel.
As the day wound to a close, the leader of the Equalities & Justice party reiterated the importance of unity in his winning speech: ‘We have different manifestos but we don’t fight for something that’s personal. We discuss and get our brains storming to present proposals to the governors. We have produced something very special.’
A special thank you to the Maidstone Prison Council members for their commitment and dedication during their time on the Council, and also to the Catering Department and prisoners working in the kitchen who produced a fantastic buffet lunch on the day, representing cuisines from all corners of the world.