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"An inspiring example of the support that older prisoners badly need."

Monday, July 18th 2016 - Ryan Harman, Prison Reform Trust

When researching the challenges faced by older people in prison, one of the projects I have seen repeatedly referenced as a beacon of good practice is the Lobster Pot at HMP Leyhill. Having already seen some of the great work that is being done by RECOOP in HMP Erlestoke and HMP Guys Marsh earlier this year, I was therefore delighted when I was invited to visit the project last month.

On arrival at the prison my hosts for the day, Jon and Fatima, met me at the entrance and escorted me to the project. Once inside the Lobster Pot, it would be easy to forget you are in a prison at all. It looks and feels just like a busy day centre you might find in the community. There were men engaging in animated conversations and sociable activities to help pass the time. Others were sitting quietly, engrossed in a newspaper or a book. Some had come to chat with the staff to get advice and reassurances about their current situation. A prisoner rep for the centre was adding an event to the busy timetable of activities and talks that was displayed on the wall for the coming month. I was given the immediate impression that this was a safe, engaging and well valued space.

The biggest asset the Lobster Pot has is its staff. As Jon kindly showed me round the grounds, he stopped to exchange words of encouragement and friendly quips with people we passed, and was beckoned over in the lunch hall and in the workshops by those wanting to share concerns and appreciative words. This rapport meant that it was very easy to find people willing to show me their accommodation and tell me a little of their personal experiences. It was obvious that many of the men have a real sense of trust for the team. This was not just with the case with the older prisoners that the project is aimed at – the team have clearly built strong relationships with prisoners of all ages and with staff throughout the prison. As a result the Lobster Pot feels firmly embedded in the culture and day to day life of the prison as a whole.

My visit was completed with a session arranged at the day centre with a group of service users. As well as being able to explain a little about the Advice and Information service we run at Prison Reform Trust, it was an important chance to speak with members of the fastest growing population within the prison estate. As we discussed some of the challenges that people had experienced throughout their sentences, one fact became abundantly clear – the amount that they relied on projects like the Lobster Pot was enormous, and some were not sure how they would have managed their time there without it.

With such apparent benefits to the population and to the prison in general, we really hope that funding for projects such as The Lobster Pot continue, and that these can be used across the estate as an inspiring example of the support that older prisoners badly need.

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