The Changing Face of Prison, by Gary Stephenson, our Executive Chairman

Monday 4th June 2018
The Changing Face of Prison, by Gary Stephenson, our Executive Chairman

Equipping Prison Officers with the skills to bridge the gap left between age and experience: using Restorative Justice to improve prisons.

Our Executive Chairman, Gary Stephenson, comments on the changing face of prisons and how Restorative Justice can deliver a safer working environment for both staff and inmates.

In my former occupation as a police officer, I often visited prisons to interview offenders, gather intelligence and investigate suicides and acts of serious bodily harm.

My presence would frequently invoke a negative response from some of the inmates, particularly those whom I had put there. The visit was often an unpleasant experience but duty called and I always felt safe and I was well looked after by the staff during my visit. I would describe most of the staff at this time as being predominantly male, white and authoritative in their outlook; carrying keys and wearing uniforms including caps. I remember during this time when I saw my first female prison officer, my head spun on its shoulders - what on earth was going on? How can this be?

How things have changed! I have been visiting prisons recently as part of the work Restorative Solutions are doing in creating and developing the concept of the Restorative Prison. The gender, race and age profile has certainly changed which is great. However, a recent article in the Guardian afe highlighted the fact that 70,000 years of experience had been lost over the last decade from the prison service, with 6,000 years of service lost in the last year alone. The article highlights the rise in assaults on staff and an increase in overall violence in our prisons. These changes make our prisons less safe for both inmates and staff. A serious issue which must be tackled if we are to maintain standards within prisons in the UK. We believe that using what we call a ‘Whole Restorative Approach’ within prisons is an incredibly effective way to address these issues.

The changing profile of staff in our prisons is something I have had debated with a number of enlightened Governors and we agree it presents significant opportunities to transform the culture of the secure environment from a more traditional, authoritarian approach to conflict by embracing a Whole Restorative Approach within the service.

Great words, I know, but what does it mean in practice for the Prison Service? It has to be said from the outset that the change is not without risk and does involve organisational and cultural change.

Staff and inmates are trained and empowered to resolve conflict restoratively either informally or within formal processes. Early intervention is encouraged, and the approach is not just confined to issues between inmates but is equally applied to conflict between staff and inmates.

The technique can also be applied to disputes between staff, so a Restorative Approach can be applied to resolve a broad range of issues within the prison.

At times, the staff member is seen as the harmer, so Restorative Justice can also be applied to resolve issues between staff and management. Our recent experiences in our Pathfinders Programme at HMP Buckley Hall & Peterborough found that by adopting a whole restorative prison approach the following positive outcomes could be achieved;

●  A safer environment for all in the prison community

●  An approach that is rehabilitative in its approach

●  A culture that promotes transformative organisational and cultural change resulting in stronger and sustainable relationships between inmates, staff and senior management.

●  Integration back into the community, be it the prison, or on release

●  An increased awareness and understanding of organisational and individual needs

●  A move from punitive to restorative adjudications

●  A culture in which individuals take responsibility for their actions and see the human consequences of those actions.

●  A respect for each others' needs

●  Increased wellbeing

●  A reduction in sickness

In delivering the ‘whole prison approach’, leadership at all levels is required. We believe the model Restorative Solutions has designed with HMP Buckley Hall & Peterborough addresses many of the issues our prisons are facing today and equips a new breed of younger, less experienced prison officer with an eclectic problem solving tool. 

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss further with Governors and other professionals working in the prison sector how this approach might be applied in secure environments across the UK. A process evaluation of the Restorative Prison pilot was conducted by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London. To see the evaluation findings, please click on the links below. I can be contacted at

Restorative Prisons Evaluation - Executive Summary

Restorative Prisons Evaluation - Full Report

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