The Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester has praised the work of frontline staff at HMP Forest Bank as they seek to provide the best possible outcomes for prisoners upon release.
Bev Hughes met with Director of the prison, Matt Spencer, prison officers, case workers and prisoners during a tour of the site (Tuesday, August 7) to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities connected to the resettlement and rehabilitation of offenders.
The Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire also saw first-hand the results of the joint working taking place between HMP Forest Bank, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and its partners.
One of the key topics of discussion was the issue of psychoactive substances and the impact of drug use on the resettlement of ex-offenders. In July this year GMCA, HMP Forest Bank and other key partners held a psychoactive substances workshop at the prison to explore issues, share good practise and examine ways of improving pathways between prison and the community.
During the visit, the Deputy Mayor was shown day-to-day strategies the prison employs to prevent drugs from entering the system and how, on the new Eden and Arcadia units, staff work to assist prisoners in drug recovery programmes.
Bev said: “I was extremely impressed when I witnessed the proactive approach HMP Forest Bank demonstrates when tackling the scourge that is drug addiction and its impact on prison life and resettlement into the community afterwards. Staff showed a clear understanding of the daily challenges prisoners face when recovering from addiction and support systems are in place for both longer-term inmates and those facing imminent release.
“Recent testing as part of the Greater Manchester Drug Alert Panel has revealed a more dangerous batch of Spice is now on the streets in Manchester. Tackling the use of psychoactive substances both inside and outside prison is very complex and there is no easy or single solution. However, the work of staff at HMP Forest Bank, in conjunction with colleagues at GMCA and others, enables organisations across the city-region to respond quickly to the challenge. We are doing all we can to combat the problem and get the drug off our streets."
The Deputy Mayor also learned more about GMCA funded initiatives within HMP Forest Bank that provide support to prisoners. ‘Rewind and Strengthen’ is a project designed to target medium risk adult male offenders who have committed a high frequency and wide range of crime. It works over a period of weeks to develop an understanding of their own problem behaviour and its triggers, as well as managing stress, emotions and relationships.
During her visit, Bev was given a tour of the Prison’s new resettlement unit Arcadia where prisoners spend the final 10 to 12 weeks of their sentence in order to assist resettlement back into the community upon release. Working with the Community Rehabilitation Company, this involves ensuring offenders are set up with a bank account and address and equipping them with basic digital skills so make their transition easier. The team also work to ensure men have a confirmed GP, appropriate identification and a CV in order to apply for work. Those needing to complete pre-release courses will be able to do so on the unit.
Another focus of the visit was how the prison, working with partners, has developed services which support the families of prisoners, particularly young adults. Roughly 60% of the current HMP Forest Bank population is a parent and the visit coincided with one of five annual Family Days. The Deputy Mayor witnessed how prison staff deliver a stimulating and safe environment enabling prisoners to bond with their families and engage with their children.
Following the visit, Director of the HMP Forest Bank, Matt Spencer, said: “It was a pleasure to host the Deputy Mayor and to enable her to see the steps we are putting in place to address issues that are negatively affecting people in custody as well as those in the wider community.
“We are pushing ahead with new technology to prevent the devastating effects of psychoactive substances that people are now witnessing in our communities.
“In our new resettlement unit, we are doing all we can to support people who will be returning to the region after spending time in custody; giving them the best chance to change their lives for the better, which can only benefit the people of Greater Manchester.”
Earlier this year the Deputy Mayor challenged the Government to accelerate prison reform and take action to ensure young offenders are placed in institutions that are closer to their community and provide a secure education.
Bev also called for action on behalf of the children who end up stigmatised, traumatised and penalised when adult family members are imprisoned. She called for more support to help people be better parents and better support for families to help offenders to rehabilitate and resettle once released.