I think most people would agree that these fly-on-the-wall documentaries about prisons make for particularly depressing viewing, and episode 2 of the BBC1 series The Prisoners didn't disappoint in that regard. To the uninitiated, it should give a degree of insight into the scale and scope of some of the problems probation have to try and deal with on a daily basis.
This episode featured heavily two female prisoners at HMP Holloway, one of the largest women's prisons in Europe we were told. Jayde, although only 18, has apparently spent most of her formative years in the care system and hence a variety of institutions. Emotionally she has been clearly damaged by her experiences and now adopts a pattern of dangerous attention seeking behaviour involving applying ligatures to her neck. Her binge-drinking only makes her violent tendencies even worse when back in the community and frequent breaches of her stringent PPO licence conditions only mean regular recalls. Ironically it's only prison where she feels cared for and safe.
What always depresses me the most about clients like Jayde, or Crystal the 23 year-old who poignantly recounted how 'some of her best times' had been in prison, is that this didn't suddenly happen over night. Each has been through a range of statutory agencies before arriving at our doorstep, but we are expected to try and fix the problem. It seems that Crystal was diagnosed as being bi-polar some time previously, but for what ever reason this hadn't been treated successfully in the community. In her case, following a near-successful suicide attempt, it seems that only being 'sectioned' under the Mental Health Act enabled her to be stabilised on medication.
It was sad to see Crystal feeling obliged to give up her tenancy in Southend, and I did wonder what if any support she'd been getting there. Of course it doesn't help with 'through-the-gate' support when the prison is some considerable distance away, potential probation bidders please note. I also notice that a residential rehab place was found for her. This is an incredibly expensive and rarely available opportunity, but not surprisingly it didn't work. We have a lot to learn regarding drug and alcohol treatments and I found myself daydreaming about the amazing Italian San Patrignano project that works holistically with people and was featured on tv in 2011.
I don't want to repeat what I said following the first episode, but each of the clients featured here, including Jason the 27 year-old crack cocaine user, would benefit from counselling in one shape or another. You only have to watch how Jayde responds to the care and concern of officer Kelly to see how each is yearning to be understood and listened to. I suspect the two women may well have suffered some form of abuse earlier in their life and one of the results can be constant episodes of self-harming or other seriously reckless behaviour. Talking about such things is extremely difficult of course and can only happen within an established and trusting professional relationship.
A measure of the degree of institutionalisation can be glimpsed when Crystal observes that 'if only we were allowed out now and then to get some clothes and do some shopping, I don't think I'd ever leave'. She felt 'looked after inside. Was clean, well fed, happy and healthy. It's like home with friends'. What a sad indictment and something to ponder on.
This series should be required viewing for any organisation considering bidding for our work on a Payment by Results basis. Is it really any wonder that reoffending rates are so high when one sees the reality of the problem posed by such chaotic offenders? There is no quick fix to such entrenched behaviours and problems. It takes a great deal of patience, time and effort and not at all conducive to Payment by Results.
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