Volunteers are needed by The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) to help monitor Aylesbury Young Offender Institution.
IMB volunteers are independent observers and have a wide brief in liaising with prisoners on all aspects of their life and conditions, such as healthcare, their property, issues with bullying, debt or visitors.
David Carpenter, chairman of the Aylesbury IMB, said: “Think of a volunteer and your mind will probably wander to somebody behind the counter at the local charity shop or perhaps somebody rattling a tin in the High Street but these volunteer people have an edgier life than most volunteers.
“Edgier maybe but totally absorbing. The job is not everybody’s cup of tea. If anyone is looking for a new challenge then this could be for you.”
Aylesbury YOI holds about 400 young men aged from 18 to 21. Its role, other than the obvious one of holding prisoners securely, is to try and furnish them with the necessary skills to ensure they find employment when released and don’t reoffend.
David said: “In any walk of life, skills are the key to economic and social success, which without any shadow of a doubt, is one of the main reasons our prisons are so full. Official statistics show that 52% of male offenders and 72% of female offenders have no qualifications whatsoever.
“Almost half of all prisoners have very poor literacy skills and nearly two thirds have the same difficulties with regard to numeracy skills. It also seems pertinent that 67% were unemployed at the time of their imprisonment.
“While there is no excuse for causing harm or distress to others, the fact that the skill levels of so many of those who inhabit our jails are so low, has to have some relevance in determining what it is that drives their offending and, equally importantly, their re-offending; which is why Aylesbury training facilities are so important.
“Almost 90% of prisoners under the age of 21 and nearly two thirds of adult prisoners re-offend within two years – the economic cost to society remains in the region of £11bn per annum.
“It costs around £35,000 a year to keep somebody in prison and that figure does not include healthcare or education which can bump that figure up considerably.
The IMB has a wide brief - the prime role is to ensure that the Home Office rules and Ministry of Justice regulations are properly applied and that the highest standards of care and decency are maintained.
“The job which although unpaid (expenses are covered) is hugely interesting, challenging and absorbing but it is not for everyone. You need to be enthusiastic, open minded, have good communication skills and have the ability to exercise sound and objective judgement.
“We will be looking to recruit some new members for 2016 and would like to hear from anybody who lives within a ten mile radius of Aylesbury.
“You do not need any special qualifications or experience as we will provide all the necessary training and support. The task typically takes up something in the region of five half days a month. The IMB at Aylesbury gets involved in both really small things like locating prisoners missing property and some pretty big things like being a major influence on changes within prisons.
“Other bigger issues involve prisoners being bullied, debt, problems with visits and healthcare issues. The list is a long one.
“The majority of prisoners issues are solved by the excellent staff at Aylesbury prison but if a resolution is not found then the IMB may be asked to assist” said David.
So what type of person becomes an IMB member? Well it take all sorts and ages vary considerably and while older people often have more time we are really interested in recruiting younger members as well.
“What else does the IMB do other than trying reunite prisoners with their property, highlight bullying issues, fast track healthcare concerns or any of the other hassles which prisoners face on an all too regular basis? Well every week we also carry out rota visits where members will be given a list of locations in the prison to visit and check to ensure all is as it should be. During these visits they talk to prisoners and staff.
“There are always three ‘must’ visit areas – Kitchen, Healthcare and the Segregation unit – then there will be a wing, perhaps a couple of work areas and various other prison departments like the Offender Management Unit.
“The idea is that over a couple of months or so, every part of the prison has had the once over and that it is being managed effectively and appropriately.
“That done, a weekly report is written which should end up on the Governor’s desk who will read, digest, perhaps comment and if need be, alert staff to various issues both good and sometimes not so good.
“Another part of the IMB job is known simply as ‘On Call’. Every week one IMB member has an On call duty where if there is an incident then he or she will be informed and may be required to come in to be the independent eyes and ears.
“This role works for both prisoners and staff because sometimes the two sides do not always agree on exactly what happened and who did what to who during an incident. It often helps to have somebody around who is totally independent.
“As part of the On Call duties we are also tasked to observe disciplinary reviews and also visit prisoners who may be in danger of self-harm. Again, all part of ensuring that an independent eye is observing everything.
“Every prison and Immigration Removal Centre in England and Wales has an IMB and every year we produce an annual report for the Ministry of Justice on our particular establishment.
“The key role of the report is to highlight areas of concern in a prison but at the same time profiling areas of good practice. These reports will then go to the Prisons Minister who will read each one and act accordingly on the issues raised.
“I am pleased to say that out annual reports are generally very positive about the way Aylesbury is run, which is very much down to the Governor and the first rate management team he leads.
“I suppose the question we should all ask is what would happen if we were not about the place?
“Different governors have different views about this as do staff and prisoners. One governor recently said “the IMB are my conscience” and another “the IMB are my insurance policy”.
“As a postscript, it’s probably a pretty healthy thing that prison staff often accuse us of ‘being on the side of the prisoner’ while prisoners accuse us of ‘being on the side of the officers’ and while that opinion remains – we have probably just about got the balance right.”
Vacancy: Independent Monitoring Board Member.
Location: Bierton Road, Aylesbury.
Role: To be the independent eyes and ears of prison life.
Further information: www.imb.org.uk
Contact details: 020 3334 3265, firstname.lastname@example.org