Prison monitors issue their ‘Cold’ call for help in Bisley

HMP Coldingley is far from empty – but prison chiefs are calling on News & Mail readers to help fill some positions at the
Category C facility.

It is probably safe to assume that most people reading this have not been to prison. But if you decide to join a group of local people who are members of a rather unusual organisation, you certainly will.

The Bisley prison’s Independent Monitoring Board is on the hunt for new recruits.

“Think of a volunteer and you are likely to picture somebody working in a local charity shop, or possibly rattling tins in the high street,” explained IMB Chairman Michael Sherley. “Volunteering for the Independent Monitoring Board is a totally different sort of opportunity.

“This is a demanding role, but very absorbing. The job isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but for somebody seeking a new challenge at the start of the New Year, this could be for them.”

HMP Coldingley accommodates around 520 male prisoners. Its role – other than the obvious one of holding them securely – is to try and furnish them with the skills they need to find employment on release and reduce the possibility of re-offending.

Michael added: “In any walk of life, skills are the key to economic and social success.

“This is one of the main reasons why 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 poor literacy skills, and nearly two thirds lack numeracy skills. It is also true that 67% were unemployed at the time of their imprisonment.

“At HMP Coldingley, priority is given to employment and education. There is a range of workshops, including engineering, printing, refurbishment of white goods, as well as a barbershop and a horticultural department.

“HMP Coldingley is regarded as one of the UK’s best examples of a working prison, with top class opportunities for prisoners to develop skills which will help them to turn their lives around when they are released.”

So what is the IMB’s role in all this? Well, it’s a pretty wide brief, as Michael explained: “Our prime role is to ensure that the highest standards of care and decency are maintained and that Ministry of Justice regulations are properly and fairly applied.

The job, which is unpaid but expenses are covered, is hugely interesting, challenging and absorbing. You need to be enthusiastic, open-minded, have good communication skills and have the ability to exercise sound, objective judgement.

“We are now looking to recruit some new members and would like to hear from anybody who lives within a 20-mile radius of HMP Coldingley.

“You do not need any special qualifications or experience as we will provide all the necessary training and support. The work
typically takes up something like four half-days a month.

“The things that the IMB get involved in range from sorting out what is happening about a prisoner’s property, to concerns about bullying, debt and problems with visits or healthcare. The list is a long one.”

Michael went on to stress that the role is open to people of all ages and backgrounds, and he is particularly keen to have some younger members on board.

He concluded: “Every week we also carry out rota visits to the prison, where members will go to various departments to talk to prisoners and staff, and generally check that things are running satisfactorily.

“A short report is produced and circulated to other IMB members, and also to the Governor of the prison who will comment and follow things up as required.”

For further information and details of how to apply go to imb.org.uk.

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