Skip to main content
Criminal Justice

Transforming the care of prisoners with learning disabilities at Parc Prison

Lisette Saunders, Sarah New, Teresa Adams and Rhys Edmunds of HMP and YOI Parc have won a Butler Trust Award, which was supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust, for their work in transforming provision for prisoners with learning disabilities. The team was determined to change the culture of the establishment and create a whole prison, multi-disciplinary approach that extended to support on release.  The result was the Learning Disabilities Pathway.


‘The initial drive was that I’ve got an autistic son who was late diagnosed – he was 12 – and I found there were no services for him,’ said lead nurse Sarah New. ‘There was just this huge, huge gap, and then when I had the opportunity to come to Parc, again there were no services. Our deputy governor also has a child with autism and ADHD so it just went from there.  The prison forum said “go for it – let’s develop a service here”, and that’s what we did.’


The first step is initial assessment of all new prisoners to establish if anyone needs to be placed on a supported living plan. This is an individual case management process that can extend as far as full-time mentor support from appropriately trained fellow prisoners, and with all staff made aware of the individual activity plans and the importance of treating prisoners with learning disabilities with decency and care.


The aim is to help those people who have the most difficulty adjusting to prison life, she says, and keep them out of safe custody and segregation areas.  ‘And for them to become socially valid within the prison community, because it is a community in itself.’


Implementation of the Learning Disability Pathway has led to reduced levels of violence, confrontation with staff, self-harm and segregation or removal to specialist units. ‘We’ve had skills development for these individuals as well, around earning a wage, being able to support themselves, going into the community and not re-offending. Being able to make those links with external services and throughcare is something they’ve never had before. It was just release and then make your own way.’


There’s also been a noticeable change of attitudes among staff, she says:  ‘It’s a different ethos altogether, and not just around people with learning difficulties and disabilities – it’s with the whole of the prison population. There’s more understanding, more supporting guidance rather than that punitive approach that prisons have historically been all about.’


The initiative remains unique in the prison estate, but a range of external bodies including NOMS, the Ministry of Justice and the National Autistic Society have visited to find out more, and the team is also working with representatives of other prisons who’d like to implement something similar.


‘We’re trying to spread the word,’ she says. ‘They’ve all taken bits and pieces away with them. I’d love to see this throughout all the prisons so that the people we support can be transferred back to their own areas or closer to home. At the moment we find it very difficult to transfer these individuals out because the support that we put in – and they require – isn’t given in other establishments.


‘We’re absolutely ecstatic about getting the award,’ she says. ‘Very pleased and proud of the whole system – ecstatic, literally.’