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You are in: Lincolnshire » A Sense Of Place » People

November 2004
Would you spend your free time in prison?
Prison cell door being locked. That's exactly what the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Morton Hall Prison near Lincoln would like you to do.

They are currently looking to recruit 2 new members and are keen to break down some of the stereotypes traditionally associated with joining a prison monitoring board.
Could you help resolve some of the conflicts that arise in a women's prison?

Given that our only experience of prisons to date was watching Bad Girls and Porridge, BBC Lincolnshire decided to take a trip to Morton Hall to find out a bit more about the prison and what the IMB do.

A few facts about Morton Hall...

  • Morton Hall is a female, semi-open prison - that is the prisoners there are considered very low security risk, but still need some constraints to prevent them from absconding.

  • The population there is around 350 and they live in 5 modern residential units - most are small en-suite, single rooms.

  • About 7% of all prisoners in the UK are female.

  • About 70% of the prison population at Morton Hall are foreign nationals.

  • All prisons are graded from 1 to 4 and Morton Hall is graded level 3 which is above average.

  • It's got a very low level of drug use and also a very low level of recorded assaults.

What is the IMB and what do they do?

It is essentially the IMB's job to see that life in the prison is fair and that the prisoners are being looked after, educated and being guided towards resettlement.

Michael Worth.
Michael Worth, a member of the Morton Hall Independent Monitoring Board
To find out more we spoke to Board Member, Michael Worth who explained the basics:

"We monitor what happens in a prison. We can't directly decide what happens, but we can effect it by responding to what we see, by talking to prisoners, taking applications from prisoners - where a prisoner actually writes down what they feel is an injustice or a problem which they are not getting resolved within the system. They apply to see someone from the board and we then talk to them, find out what's been happening and what we can do to resolve it."

The IMB are also there for the prison staff "Prisoner issues can be influenced by staffing issues. We don't see it as two sides - we're here for everybody." Michael explained.

Board members have an unfettered right to enter the prison 7 days a week, they can go anywhere in the prison, talk to any prisoner on request and can see any bit of information that passes through the prison. "Very little can be kept from us and very little should be kept from us."

"If you get a combination of a good strong board and a good governor then there's a lot that you can achieve together, so we're not fighting against each other, we're actually working in partnership."
Michael Worth, Morton Hall IMB

Issues that keep the IMB busy can be anything from mental health problems to parental issues and what happens when the prisoners are released.

Morton Hall also has a large population of foreign nationals and that in itself can raise a number of issues from language difficulties to cultural clashes and even dietary issues.

Who are they looking for?

Michael went on to explain why the board are looking for new members. "The current board do a very good job, but with increasing numbers in the prison we are looking at recruiting another 2 board members over the next 6 months." And to reflect the changes in the prison population, the board are hoping to attract a younger and more diverse cross section of the local community.

Traditionally IMBs might be considered to be the preserve of white, middle class males. Michael explained why he thinks this may have arisen:

Prison fence.

"I think it is a circular argument - in recruitment you tend to recruit mirror images of yourself. And in the past the board has been predominantly male membership. Some of that is to do with the history of Morton Hall as it used to be a male open prison. But now it is necessary for the board to reflect a wider and more diverse range."

Anyone over 18 is eligible to join the IMB of a prison and the main prerequisites are a level of maturity and a bit of free time.

"Anyone who works for a voluntary group when they recruit, tends to minimise the amount of time required in order to initially attract people. The reality is the minimum you could get away with is about 3 half days a month. But that is flexible.

"What happens with most people is that they enjoy the experience, they realise that what they're doing can actually help. They try to spend as much time here as possible."

Every week there are two board members on call. Those two members could be called in by a prisoner at any time if a severe situation occurs. They would also need to pay one visit each during that week to deal with applications and deal with their other duties.

The board need people who are comfortable dealing with a whole range of different people from 18 through to over 60, and and who are sensitive to the issues of those different people. They need to be able to listen and to respond reasonably and to be able to create an empathy with the people that they are dealing with.

So the big question has to be why would anyone do it? What could make someone like me or you give up their valuable free time?

What will I get out of it?

Quite apart from the sense of satisfaction at making a difference in society many people find that the training they receive as a board member can be very useful in other aspects of their lives.

We asked Michael why he enjoyed being a member of the board:

"It is a bit of a cliché, but you do get out of it what you put in. I look forward to coming here. The day I stop looking forward to coming through the gates I'll stop doing the job."

Like the sound of joining the IMB?

To find out more about applying for the IMB at Morton Hall contact the Clerk to the IMB by calling 01522 666707
or write to:

Clerk to the IMB
HMP Morton Hall

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