“This has all translated into me being better at my job, which is so important when working in a stressful environment.”
This month, Spark Inside hit a milestone of supporting 50 prison staff with over 200 hours (and counting!) of one-to-one coaching. Of those 50 prison staff, four are Governors with huge responsibility for the prison culture and environment.
I could not be prouder of this work and how it delivers on our mission to unlock the potential of individuals and drive culture change in the criminal justice system so that rehabilitation is possible.
Those who live and work in prisons – currently around 80,000 prisoners and 22,000 staff – can be demotivated and under supported, which creates harmful environments that can exacerbate prisoners’ already complex needs and increase self-harm, deaths in custody and assaults.
The pandemic has put the system under further strain, reducing rehabilitation opportunities and worsening the mental health of both prisoners and staff (Kothari et al, 2020) — with negative consequences for reoffending (HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 2021). Restrictive regimes, which have seen prisoners often spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells, have significantly impacted prisoners’ wellbeing and life chances (User Voice, 2020). Last year, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons said that there has also been too slow a pace in restoring education, training and rehabilitation programmes that were halted by Covid-19.
It is clear that the mental, physical and emotional toll of Covid-19 on people in prison has been devastating, and much work and investment will be needed around rehabilitation and wellbeing.
As well as people who live in prison, we also need to consider the 22,000 men and women who work in prisons, and the impact they can have – positive or negative – on the environment, as we emerge from this pandemic.
Underinvestment has meant that as prisoner numbers have grown, staff numbers have not kept pace. Prison officers have increasingly challenging roles in an increasingly challenging environment — having more contact with prisoners than any other professional, they are the first responders to people in distress, people suffering with mental health issues, to volatile and sometimes violent situations.
Even while writing this blog, I heard that one of the brilliant young officers we coach had been attacked and was recovering at home. A stark reminder of just how challenging this role can be.
A recent confidential survey of prison officers found high levels of anxiety and burn out (Memon and Hardwick, Centre for the Study of Emotion and Law, Royal Holloway University of London, 2021), and in 2020, the BBC reported that 1,000 prison officers in England and Wales took time off work the previous year because of stress, with another 800 suffering from anxiety and depression.
Our life coaching programme aims to give prison officers the reflective space and tools to improve their own wellbeing and in turn, that of prisoners in their care, contributing to rehabilitation. And it’s popular! During the pandemic, we offered coaching free of charge, and of all the staff who took up the offer, almost every one of them did their coaching sessions in their own free time – showing how much they valued the opportunity.
And we know coaching is working. In the initial group of staff coached 94% reported making progress in their lives. 100% of clients said they would recommend coaching for people living or working in prison.
We also saw the impact coaching had on how staff relate to and work with people in their care.
One officer told us:
“I was able to sit back and take a look at what was happening from an outside view and other people’s views also, I realised that listening and taking in what people say is also a very powerful way of helping people.”
The coaching also had an impact on leadership style and positive role modelling, with one participant telling us:
“My experience of life coaching is that it builds people’s ability to change, and helps them make better choices, in a way that just forcing the ‘right’ answer down someone’s throat doesn’t. It also teaches you how to lead through behaving in a particular way, rather than just telling people what to do. That’s really important in a prison.”
We are so excited to now make our coaching offer for prison staff part of Spark Inside’s core work going forward. Next year, we will increase the number of staff we work with and continue to offer this to all grades, from Governor to Officer, across the estate.
“Prisons are busy and demanding places to work. As a senior prison leader, I find it immensely valuable to step back and reflect regularly. Coaching enables me to do this in a structured, supportive way so that I can return to my work with a renewed sense of purpose and focus”.
If you would like to know more about our coaching programmes for people working in prison, click here. To learn more about our coaching programmes for young people in prison click here, and you can see more about our impact here.
Vicki Cardwell, CEO