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Y13 Psychology Trip to HMP Onley

An overview of the day, written by the students.

On Wednesday 2nd March, twelve Psychology and Sociology students aged over 18, along with Mrs Whorlow, Mrs Clarke and Mr Clear- our appreciated driver- were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to visit HMP Onley, a male category C prison in Rugby. This prison is for offenders who are considered to be at a low risk of escape, but have various lengths of sentences.

As we drew up to the prison in the minibus, we were greeted by a daunting building surrounded by tall metal fences topped with razor wire, and we made our way into the signing in area, where our IDs were checked and we were provided with lanyards stating our identities. We were then greeted by  Senior Prison Officer, Tony Hughes, who outlined the rules of the prison (which included no mobile phones, sharp objects , magnets or glue!) and the plan for the day.

We were then taken into a ‘gateway area’, which consisted of two layers of shatterproof and bulletproof glass which we were told could even stop cars!  This was the only access to the main prison for staff and visitors although visitors for prisoners have to go throughwhat is known as the Search Tank.  The next room we were led into is where staff gain access to allocated keys and radios. The officers were to wear the keys on a chain attached to their trousers at all times. Tony told us that if one set of keys was lost, it would cost the prison £250000, as they would have to replace all of the locks in the prison and all other sets of keys.

The Visitor's Centre is a large room with tables and chairs, where the prisoners would sit facing their families during visiting hours. We were surprised to hear that the prisoners aren't handcuffed during visits. After this, Tony took us into Reception and talked us through the different operating systems at the prison, for example OASIS (Offender Assessment System), which is used to assess prisoners when they are first admitted, so they can be assigned jobs and treatment programmes, and NOMS, which is a booking system for all prisoners. Tony then showed us the different types of handcuffs that the prisoners were expected to wear when they were being moved if a prisoner is not compliant.  Also, if the prisoners were to require medical attention and a stay in hospital, they would need to be cuffed to a guard at all times.

We then visited the H Wing, which consisted of a long narrow corridor with cells on either side. Unfortunately we could not stay there long, as the prisoners were in their cells and began shouting through the doors, so it was thought best that we left so as not to encourage them. Downstairs, we visited the Family Advice Support & Training Project, where Mrs Whorlow’s husband  works as a senior social worker. He talked us through the ways in which he supports and assists  the prisoners’ in maintaining contact with families (if deemed safe to do so) by promoting continued relationships outside of the prison and encouraging them to change their behaviour focusing on how their sentence and offending behaviour can  affect their children’s long term development and status with in community.  He is also involved in safeguarding,  referring any children who are reported or observed to be vulnerable and at risk to social services.

Next we went to the Segregation Unit where the prisoners who misbehave or are on suicide watch go for their own safety.  If a prisoner was in this unit it meant that they had to be locked in their cell for 23 hours a day, and were only allowed 1 hour in which they were expected to exercise, shower and make phone calls. The cells only had a wooden bed, a toilet and a sink, all being shatterproof meaning the prisoner could cause no harm to themselves, other prisoners or staff.

We then walked back along the main corridor to the community rehabilitation company (CRC) where we met two members of staff who explained about housing and employment on release. They also went on to explain the difficulties that offenders faced with finding housing and that 10% of them on release are left homeless. We learnt that if prisoners had some form of shelter on release they were less likely to reoffend as this gives them an incentive.

Further along the corridor was the training programme unit where we were greeted by four members of the team. Here programmes are offered targeting different issues such as, domestic violence, alcohol related crime and aggression management. We discussed the staffs’roles and they explained to us how the group sessions worked. After this S.O. Hughes explained to us the levels of regime that prisoners are placed on depending on their behaviour from basic to enhanced for more trusted and compliant prisoners.

We were then shown to one of the workshops where prisoners are given employment and training. We were specifically shown the car engineering workshop sponsored by Halfords.  This was only one of the multiple work opportunities for prisoners that range from brick laying to hair dressing. Prisoners could earn up to 65p an hour and also achieve qualifications.

What followed then was a long walk - the entire length of the prison - in freezing sleet, back to the visitors centre where we ate lunch. During lunch one of the officers who was with us received a radio call alerting them to an incident.

After lunch we reentered the main prison to visit a variety of different wings. I wing was what most people would envisage a prison would look like, with three different levels with mesh underneath each level to stop any prisoners from attempting to jump.  L wing  was very different as it house enhanced prisoners. It was here where we met Sully who let us into his cell which was greatly appreciated.  These cells were much more spacious and were better facilitated compared to the other wings that we had seen.

Finally, we signed out of the main prison and headed over to the training block. In the training block we met with two officers who deliver the Control and Restraint training to other members of staff. Firstly, we were shown the protective uniform and some of the weapons that had been found in cells in the prison. The weapons had been made by the prisoners themselves supposedly to protect themselves; they were very imaginative weapons such as, a roll-on deodorant with a nail in the top and a tooth brush with razor blades in the bristles. We were shown different drills and restraints which illustrated the necessary force officers need to use in certain situations.  Next, we were taken to a mock cell where we were shown how prisoners were restrained and taken into a cell when there has been an incident and how officers ensure a safe exit for themselves  At this point we had a chance to ask a few questions and were shown the officers’ baton and fish knife. Unfortunately, this brought our trip to an end and we said goodbye and thanks to the staff who had made the trip both possible and enjoyable.