‘Not all prisoners are scallies – sometimes things happen in life’

view springhill prison
view springhill prison

IT’S a nightmare scenario – you’re driving at 34mph in a 30mph zone and an old lady walks out in front of your car.

She’s thrown backwards and breaks a leg but it’s not a life-threatening injury.

Then she goes to hospital and in the course of an operation, she contracts the deadly MRSA bug and tragically dies.

Then you’re charged with death by dangerous driving and end up serving time inside prison. Two lives ruined.

That was a real-life example given by Spring Hill open prison principal officer Paul Chadwick at a talk in Milton Keynes today (Wednesday). He was making a point that not all his prisoners are hardened criminals.

“It’s not just scallies that come into prison,” Mr Chadwick told the April breakfast meeting of City Breakfast Club, at stadium:mk. “Sometimes things come from outer space and hit you.

“I am asking for your help to get my lads into work. I want to send my lads out working with you,” he told the gathering of more than 100 business leaders.

Spring Hill is a category D open prison in Grendon Underwood, near Aylesbury. It houses 330 male inmates aged over 21 who are in the last two years of their sentences.

Spring Hill has no fences, has public paths through its grounds and prepares prisoners for release by addressing, accommodation, employment, vocational training and offending behaviour needs.

Mr Chadwick, a supporter of the MK Dons, said although he is working with 29 charities in the Herts, Bucks and Oxfordshire area he wanted more and to engage with businesses.

“You do not have to deal with employment law,” he said. “If you don’t like one of my lads, ring us up and we will come out and pick him up.”

And the companies don’t have to pay wages to the prisoners, as long as they get employment training and education.

He added that most of the prisoners were eager to get out and learn and were ‘highly motivated’.

A massive 96 per cent of the inmates of Spring Hill live in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire area and at some stage will be released into the community.

“I want you to work with me to make a difference to the lives of these young people,” he said. “I am asking you to take a risk.”

He said people in prison from the stigma of serving time but he added that the risk was reduced by continual assessments and checks for drugs. They even carry tracker phones and are released on licence.

“We have more information about our prisoners than you have about your employees,” he explained.

And the prisoners at Spring Hill, a former base of the wartime Special Operations Executive, also have a wide variety of high level educational courses to give them skills valued by employers.

Those skills include degree level IT networking, driving, horticulture and construction. Much of the training isn’t government funded and needs financial help from other organisations.

In an engaging half-hour talk, Mr Chadwick urged his audience not to believe the image of prisons and prisoners portrayed in television programmes and news items about riots, hostage incidents and prisoners being beaten up by their guards.

He said this wasn’t helped because people in the prision system “never come out and tell you what we do.

“The system of 124 prisons has a riot every two or three years,” said Mr Chadwick. “Seventy out of 100 prisoners will disappear straight away. They are trying to serve their sentence and get back into normal life.

“Of the 30 who build barricades, when we break through there are 10 of them left and we deal with them.”

He added that it made economic sense to reduce the re-offending rate from 59 per cent. He aims to get 80 per cent of the inmates of Spring Hill into full time employment.

And, in terms of companies, he said taking on ex-offenders would be a way to grow without costs of employment.

> Contact Mr Chadwick on 01296 445152