Swinfen Hall Young Offenders Institution

On the 21st March Peter Knapton spoke to the Society about Swinfen Hall Young Offender's Institution. Until two months ago Peter was Governor at Swinfen leaving to take up a new post as Governor of Brinsford prison near Wolverhampton.

Swinfen opened in 1963 as a Borstal institution with an inmate population of 180, being re-designated as a Young Offenders Institution in 1988, having a population of 320 in 1998 and following a recent building programme has now expanded to a population of 620 of whom 90 are `lifers'. There is a total staff and helpers of about 400.

Peter described to us a profile of the kind of young person who was likely to be in custody at Swinfen. Their age range is 18 to 25 serving four years to life, a period long enough to establish constructive remedial programmes for the prisoners. They would be likely to come from socially disadvantaged sectors of society with problems of social exclusion, poor numeracy and literacy skills, low employment prospects, with drug, alcohol and possible mental health problems. The problems of rehabilitation are many and varied.

The motto at Swinfen is `Reducing Risk - Restoring Hope' and one indication whether this is working is by an examination of the re-offending rate following release back into Society. In Swinfen's case this is very low when compared to the national average of all prisons. The intended outcome of the prison's philosophical approach is to help inmates reduce their re-offending by providing learning programmes in numeracy and literacy, vocational skills, social and life skills, and offering examination opportunity in the core school curriculum, thereby helping to build self-confidence as a basis for return to Society. Further counselling in thinking skills, anger management and substance abuse, sex offenders' treatment and treatment for drug, alcohol and substance abuse are implemented. There are measures provided also to reduce the potential for illegal importation of drugs into the prison with trained sniffer dogs and bullying is well monitored in order to provide safe custody for prisoners.

Peter painted a picture of an enlightened establishment in sharp contrast to many older prison establishments which are at full stretch and have little prospect of success in the implementation of rehabilitation programmes and on re-offending rates. A lively Q & A session followed in which Peter expanded on his and Swinfen's approach to prison service as applicable to young offenders. The audience was left with much food for thought.

Tony Crookes
March 2007