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20 October 2020

Guest blog: Winning a battle for voluntary ROTL at HMP East Sutton Park

In this guest blog, a woman held in HMP Eastwood Park shares her success in challenging a blanket policy to stop release on temporary licence for people working on voluntary placements.

The Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) recently upheld my complaint after HMP East Sutton Park stopped voluntary work for all residents in October 2019, allowing only paid work placements. I had thoroughly enjoyed my voluntary job as a Telephone Helpline Adviser with the charity Unlock for 10 months and would have happily continued it until release, but this was not to be. As a woman nearing retirement age, I was not seeking paid work on release.

It took five months to go through the whole complaints process; I had complained to the prison staff and governor, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), as well as writing to the Head of the Women’s Estate. All returned my complaint forms. So, I asked the PPO to investigate after feeling ignored by the internal prison complaints system.

In March 2020 the PPO upheld my complaint, agreed I deserved an apology and the volunteer role should be re-instated. Covid-19 delayed the re-instatement of the job, before my actual release. I received a written apology from the Governor (who is actually responsible for 2 women’s prisons, so very stretched). I appreciate the apology — and since my verdict, East Sutton Park’s local ROTL policy has been amended to allow voluntary work.

The new ROTL policy framework is meant to enable better rehabilitation and allow more women access to ROTL, but residents continue to struggle to get placements approved. As well as feeling under constant threat of withdrawal of ROTL at any time.

So, what lessons should be learned from my experience? Firstly, I’d like to thank both the PRT Advice and Information team and Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) for believing in me and helping to handle the complaint, as it can often feel as though most women prisoner’s complaints are ignored. I had to be very determined and couldn’t have done it on my own.

I entirely believe that officers — and Governors — should receive special training for managing female prisoners as their needs are so different than the typical male prisoner. Blanket policies and approaches for women and men are not appropriate. From my own experience, this is especially important for older women, I am now over 60 years old, and still a human being with a life that matters.

Please do pursue complaints with the PPO if you feel your complaint is ignored by the prison. Don’t give up if you have a valid complaint.

Further resources

Transforming Lives programme

The Prison Reform Trust has long called for a reduction in women’s imprisonment in the UK and a step change in how the criminal justice system responds to the needs of women.

Advice and information

Find our existing written guidance and information for people in prison, as well as details on how to contact our advice and information team.