COVID-19, Command Mode and Contact

Published 25/06/2020
Author(s) Laura Frampton

Laura Frampton – Head of Service, HMP Thameside.

In line with COVID-19 government guidelines, I am considered a key worker and as such, people dutifully clap for my colleagues and I every Thursday at 8pm. I work for a third sector organisation, Catch22, as Head of Service at HMP Thameside, a category B local resettlement prison, operated by Serco – the only London based Contracted Prison. As Head of Service, I am responsible for leading on the development and delivery of Catch22 Offender Management Unit (OMU), where my focus is usually on contract management, performance monitoring and business development.

My role as Head of Service during a global pandemic is almost unrecognisable from what it once was. Whilst previously I was focused on contract management, performance monitoring and business development. I now try to oversee effective service delivery whilst in business contingency mode, to keep my staff safe and maintain compliance with our contract without being able to have direct prisoner contact. Trying to manage a prison based service in an establishment that is in command mode (which means it is in complete lockdown, with the regime stopped), whilst simultaneously trying to enhance our capacity to work remotely has been the task that has dominated my working hours of late. All of the usual expectations from our key stakeholder remain, and the pressure to strike the correct balance has been tangible. With the premature and tragic passing of one of our Serco colleagues serving as a stark reminder that there is absolutely no room for complacency.

If you had asked me before we entered command mode at HMP Thameside, whether it was possible for us to deliver offender management services remotely, I would have said no. How could we effectively deliver a service user facing role, without having face to face contact with service users? Well, lockdown set in, command mode was ordered nationally by the Government, and locally by the Director at HMP Thameside, and I had reduced the number of our staff reporting to the prison by 50% (with 50% working on innovation projects from home) to ensure their safety. Quickly, I was able to see that thanks to the resilience and professionalism of my team, and the provision of excellent in-cell technology by Serco, some resemblance of normal service could exist, even under such unbelievable circumstances. The in-cell technology provision at HMP Thameside is fantastic, each cell has an in-cell telephone and an in-cell computer installed. With focus and determination, we utilised the in-cell telephony to contact service users from inside the prison, to ensure that every prisoner had their basic needs screened within 72 hours of arriving in the prison.  Unsurprisingly, we found a number of service users were experiencing feelings of boredom and isolation, so despite our restricted movements around the prison, we have continued to respond quickly and decisively where we have identified vulnerabilities such as physical and /or mental health issues.

I wanted us to be both proactive, as well as reactive, when supporting frustrated service users, ensuring we maintained good levels of contact with prisoners. With colleagues having increased time at home, we have been able to create numerous interventions that are delivered in cell. Using the internal post, as well as the prisoner Custodial Management System (CMS), we have been able to provide both distraction packs (which include activities such as word searches and colouring sheets) as well as offence focused interventions. Thus, allowing service users to demonstrate some progression through their sentence and that they are working towards their sentence plan objectives, despite the lack of availability of the usual out of cell interventions.

Throughout this time, we have continued to utilise the fantastic in-cell technology provided by Serco, meaning we can keep in touch with our service users both on the phone and via electronic messaging on CMS. And perhaps more importantly, thanks to this technology, the prisoners can reach out to us and have been doing so in droves. Being adaptable, innovative and responsive has served us well in this time; but so has the investment that was made in the installation (and ongoing maintenance!) of in-cell technology which has allowed us to remain present and contactable even in the most challenging circumstances.

Being in contact with service users is the foundation upon which our service delivery is based. It is how we build rapport, undertake meaningful work and also assess risk. Having a set of circumstances that has threatened this so aggressively and actively has been shocking. The aggressive virus has been matched in strength by the drive and determination of my colleagues to ensure prisoner safety, decency and public protection; some have paid the ultimate price in their quest. So please, keep clapping for them and all of us positioned firmly, on the front line.

Laura Frampton

Head of Service

HMP Thameside

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