In a word, extremely!
For those who don't know, HMPPS Insights brings people together from across the Criminal Justice System to learn, share, connect and celebrate the excellent and innovative work done. With over 500 events and over 14,000 tickets shared, here's a whistle-stop tour of my 2 week experience in May 2022.
I'll start with my favourite and that's saying something as they were ALL highly informative and captivating in both detail and social importance.
How have city drugs found their way into small rural communities?
An extraordinary man called Luke Peters (aka Still Shadey who is now a spokesman for St Giles Trust charity and a musician) spoke with passion about 'County Lines'. This is the widespread operational procedure set up by drug dealers in highly organised crime networks to groom, recruit and exploit children as young as 13 to pass drugs from big cities into market towns and rural communities. His personal story and knowledge of young people was impressive, having lived experience of being exploited himself.
He is part of the SOS+ award-winning Central London project delivering early intervention and de-glamorising gangs in the community. There is also an excellent film 'County Lines' that shows one boy's journey on BBC iPlayer.
How many men at HMP Leeds reported a brain injury?
Another enlightening talk was given by the Disabilities Trust about the high prevalence of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) in the prison population.
As many as 47% of men at HMP Leeds reported a TBI.
The most common causes are assaults (including childhood abuse), falls, sporting or car accidents.
62% of TBIs in women are caused by domestic violence.
Symptoms of TBIs are memory loss, disorientation, impulsive and inappropriate behaviour, frustration, irritability, anxiety, confusion, depression. The charity is pushing for more understanding on this, often overlooked, serious issue.
What is The Corston Report?
'Working with Women who Offend' looked at how most women are in prison for short sentences which research has shown to be more harmful in every way than a long, settled one. Also that 60-80% of women in custody have experienced domestic violence and so have complex needs, "often the product of a life of abuse and trauma".
The reason one prisoner gave for self-harm was: "What I can do to my own body is the only thing I have left to control."
It's clear from research that custody for women needs to be gender responsive. Prisons have been traditionally developed by men, for men. Research shown in The Corston Report, also an astonishingly obvious piece of work, suggests they are unlikely to work for women. Why not take a look?
Can prisoners teach themselves to read?
The Shannon Trust showed us that rates of both reoffending and losing touch with family are higher if those in custody can't read. As a charity known for its outstanding work teaching people in prison to read, and being peer tutors for others. The charity has now created a motivational app that can be utilised by themselves to assist in reading offline. It's called 'Turning Pages' and could be a game-changer for people with literacy issues inside.
So much more…
To summarise the rest, without diminishing from their importance in any way, I learnt about lack of trust in residential care-experienced women; about the Mulberry Bush School trying to keep children in education and out of custody; how teaching philosophy to 'lifers' creates more meaningful relationships; and how psychological safety within teams is vital for any team to create good work.
There was also the history of the polygraph test (lie-detector - did you know the ability of the average person to catch a liar is only 60%!) and how it's being used to review risk assessments of UK sex offenders; a talk asking if we're really listening to the voices of pregnant women in prison; how the disproportionate exclusion from school of the Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) Community and existing daily racism (staff and prisoners) in prisons has forced the Traveller Movement charity to use creative ways to address these issues.
A talk about children in the justice system revealed them to be some of the most damaged and vulnerable in our society (under their multi-layered, bulletproof survival suits); a presentation about the time, effort and precision that's put into designing a new policy framework for safeguarding children was fascinating; and the chicken and egg problem of mental health problems and drugs - which comes first?
How I used my new knowledge
I took actions away from each talk and thought about how they could benefit the Content Hub. So much of this information has the potential to stop first offences and to understand the underlying illnesses behind why people offend, which when treated, can slow and stop re-offending. It has given me hope for the future of society.
Last but not least, I also 'won' a coffee and a chat with Clare Wilson, a Senior Policy Manager (Sentence Management) in the Probation Reform Programme. She talked about her work with Young Adults, I talked about the Content Hub, and we've been talking about HMPPS possibilities ever since. I have happily added Clare to my list of new 'insightful' colleagues.
We're all busy, but it's important to stop and look around at all this incredible work happening in the wider community. Also, to meet new people who are working for the same thing in different ways.
Thank you to the team and speakers who put on this festival - it's the most educational 2 weeks of my year.
Now I'm off to find a money-tree…