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Hello! My name is Niamh and I am currently working as a prison officer as part of the Unlocked Graduate’s scheme. As part of the scheme, I have been given the opportunity to come and complete a 2 week work placement with the Barrow Cadbury Trust. This is my first week and I am excited to be here!

I want to use my blog posts as an opportunity to get more prison officers involved in the reports and research that are being published about the criminal justice sector. While working as an officer, it has been important to me to inform my practice using the most up-to-date research being conducted about my place of work. This kind of research is available to everyone to see, but often it’s thought that the only people who need to see it are policy makers, or members of parliament. This is not true! In these papers is a wealth of knowledge that can inform the frontline workers who are coming into daily contact with the people the publications are aiming to help.

As a prison officer, I come into contact with so many different people, often with very different needs, and understanding why they have those needs can often be the answer for how best to help them. Looking at papers like how to prevent young adults being caught in the revolving door, coming in and out of contact with the criminal justice system again and again, I can see the men that I work with, in the middle of that cycle themselves.

Catching them before they come to prison is ideal, but I know that it is never too late to help them break the cycle of reoffending. Research into young people who are care experienced, and LGBTQ+ people, for example, is important as it recognises and highlights the impact of different environmental experiences, such as spending time in care, or being discriminated against because of your gender and/or sexuality. This can teach frontline workers, such as prison officers, about triggers, which will help them build trust, and inform them about what people need with respect to these vulnerabilities, whether it be building a connection with someone who has found it hard to access consistent support in the care system, or researching resources that will help a LGBTQ+ person get back on their feet when they are released from prison.

Sometimes, working in a prison can feel like you have a thousand and one jobs to do at once, and having to cater for individual needs seems like an unnecessary additional burden. While I understand that feeling, I also know that by understanding these individual needs, I can predict who needs what, and this helps me manage my time better, as well as building relationships with the men. This can be as big a thing as understanding how to help someone who has just experienced a bereavement, down to just wishing Eid Mubarak to the Muslim population who have just finished fasting for Ramadan. This is the kind of good practice that highlights the importance of frontline workers who want to see change in the men and women they’re working with.

Thank you very much for reading this blog. I hope you learned something from it, and I hope you read some of the reports I linked to – especially if you are another prison officer! Even though I work with male offenders, I think the reports are just as valuable wherever you work, whether it’s the male or female estate, young offenders or adults. I’ll be writing another blog next week, which I hope you will also enjoy. See you then!