Feature: It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it – Chokey chief talks about changes at The Mount

HMP The Mount, Bovingdon
HMP The Mount, Bovingdon

The man at the helm of Bovingdon’s The Mount Prison is pushing through a series of changes which will see the institution’s capacity swell by more than a third, but the chokey chief is keen to point out he isn’t running a holiday camp.

Steve Bradford has acted as governor of the county’s only prison since January 2012 and is now rolling through its transformation into a ‘hybrid’ facility as part of a government-wide resettlement initiative, designed to bring prisoners closer to home for the final part of their sentences.

Steve Bradford, governor of HMP The Mount

Steve Bradford, governor of HMP The Mount

The 52-year-old chokey chief, who lives in Essex, said : “I hear people saying prison is like a holiday camp, but it’s not – prison is hard, I don’t care what you say.

“It’s a total misrepresentation. They don’t have Sky TV, they have to rent their TV time out of their prison earnings.

“Their facilities are very basic, the food is adequate but I wouldn’t dine out on it.

“We make the conditions as reasonable as we can by human standards, but it makes my blood boil when people say that prison is an enjoyable experience.”

Each of the 770 prisoners at the Mount – which is to rise to 1,026 by October – is expected to get out of bed and work for their prison earnings and privileges – not kick back with their feet up.

But despite the lack of luxury, Steve believes prison is still about opportunity for convicts.

He said: “It’s not our job to further punish them, we have to try and persuade them to change their lives. The punishment stops at the door.”

The institution is currently undergoing a major building and refurbishment programme which will see even more employment and training opportunities added to the existing ‘industrial complex’ on site – which offers prisoners the chance to learn trades from plastering to plumbing to printing.

The building work is expected to be completed by September and will also provide additional healthcare and mental health counselling facilities for the soon-to-be-larger prison population – as well as an accommodation block to house the influx of new inmates.

Steve, who has 29 years experience in the prison industry having worked his way up from officer status, said: “Many of these guys have never had a job or been given the chance to prove themselves, so it is no wonder they turn to crime. They just want money in their back pockets.

“Here we have a good record for getting them out working for nothing in voluntary posts – it is a trial for them, and many go on to get jobs when they get out and can start to lead a normal life.

“This is one of the main reasons we are making big changes about resettlement. As they go through the gate the support they need to achieve that will now be there for them.”

The Mount also holds employment forums for external companies to visit the industrial complex and scout out future employees. Timpson and Sue Ryder are two such companies who value the contribution that can be made by ex-offenders on their release from prison.

It is hoped this focus on academic and vocational betterment will help support prisoners on their release by improving their employment opportunities.

Under the government’s plans for the new resettlement programme, prisoners serving a year-long sentence or under will serve all of their time in a resettlement prison and receive a supervision and support package on their release, while those serving longer sentences would be moved to a resettlement prison at least three months before the end of their time in custody.

The programme suffered a stumbling block when The Mount was initially earmarked to host London offenders prior to their release.

Following a campaign by Hertfordshire’s police and crime commissioner , Hertfordshire-based convicts will now come to Bovingdon to begin the rehabilitation programme.

The county’s relatively low crime and good employment rates mean only around 900 of the 83,000 prisoners in the country hail from Hertfordshire, but the resettlement scheme is designed to aid these offenders on their reintegration to society while protecting the Hertfordshire community by helping to reduce reoffending rates.

The Mount will be one of 70 prisons across the UK which will be designated resettlement institutions, but Steve says the bespoke element of the support provided is what will make the difference to inmates preparing to go back on the outside.

He said: “All offenders are different, but we realised a long time ago that one of the best ways of reducing reoffending is to sort out their resettlement needs.

“If they have got somewhere to live, if their benefits are sorted out, if they have a job or training lined up, and if they have the support for any mental health or drug problems, that helps reduce the risk of them relapsing.”

Another element of the prison operation that will be overhauled is the provision of day release.

Following the murder of Little Gaddesden good samaritan Graham Buck last July by Ian McLoughlin – who was at the time on day release from Spring Hill open prison in Buckinghamshire – the Mount along with other jails across the county has stepped up its risk assessment policies associated with the privilege.

Steve said: “We would never take silly risks.

“Even if the indicators are really positive, at the end of the day we are talking about offenders.

“We have always taken care to mitigate the risks and clearly prisons haven’t gone far enough.

“The bottom line is there will now be fewer people going out on day release, and those that are will be the ones considered very low risk.

“Our series of changes is two-fold. Firstly, we are making sure we are doing the right thing with prisoners while they are in custody.

“Secondly, we need to identify and give them the resettlement programme that works for them individually.

“We are trying to provide a public service on behalf of the people in Hertfordshire, it is really important that we are considered part of the community.

“All of these new changes will mean that the offenders benefit, their families benefit, and so do the wider public in the area.”

As well as its inmate population, The Mount also employs 320 staff, 100 conracted-out service providers in areas such as healthcare, and more than 200 volunteers.

To support all of the changes, the prison is also embarking on a recruitment drive, seeking up to 90 new staff across a range of operations. For details and how to apply, visit justice.gov.uk.