Reflections of Dean Barrow – Saturday 23rd March 2019

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A thankless job

After graduating from University and spending a period of time travelling, I was at a bit of a loss as to what career path I was going to choose. I knew that I didn’t want to pursue a career in law, nor did I particularly want to continue studying. After working in a few low-key jobs, I knew that I had to find a job that would give me some sort of intrinsic satisfaction. Having returned home to live with my parents, I found an advert in a local newspaper where the Prison Service were recruiting. I applied along with a wide variety of other jobs and thought no more about it.

In no time at all I was invited to attend an assessment centre in London, where I was required to sit a maths and English test. After passing this, I did not hear anything for months until one day I was again summoned to London to complete a J-SAC (Job Simulation Assessment Centre). After successfully completing the assessment, I was given a start date to begin training – I was also informed that I would be working at Holloway, which filled me with complete dread as I had only heard sensational half-truths from the newspapers.

I had never really worked in the Criminal Justice System, nor had I any understanding about the complex issues regarding sending women to jail. I believe that this was in some way beneficial, as I was able to learn on the job without any pre-conceived notions. I have to point out that I loved working at Holloway, at times it was stressful and I saw things that beggared belief. Despite the constant negativity from the press and to a certain extent successive Governments, who the majority of which sat back and turned their heads away from the real issues, it was an amazing place to work.

The knock-on effect of the closure of Holloway in 2016 has been immense. A huge resource and a wealth of experience and skill was literally decimated within months. The sheer wealth of expertise in dealing with complex women, including pregnancy, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health, abuse and other issues far too numerous to mention was, what in my opinion made working in the female estate, so challenging but nonetheless rewarding.

Being a prison officer, can at times, be the most thankless job in the world. Our relationship with those under our care is often different than those of other professionals and can be fraught with difficulties. Not only do we have to walk a tight rope between maintaining security and balancing the well-being of prisoners, but we also have to be firm. In trying to maintain a semblance of discipline, we are often viewed by prisoners and other agencies in a negative light. We are the first people that prisoners see in the morning and the last they see at night – so it is vital that we form a professional but caring working relationship.

I have very much enjoyed my 15 years as a prison officer even though the last few years have been what can only be described as frustrating. A lot of challenges lie ahead with more investment needed in many areas of prison policy and operation, but this needs to come from the top.

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