Tuersday, 12th April 2011, Portsmouth.
Less than a year after the launch of Portsmouth African oasis (PAO), representatives of the Portsmouth based charitable association found themselves back at HM Kingston Prison in Milton Portsmouth but this time with a different mission. In its efforts to embrace the government’s “Big Society” initiative, HMP Kingston, staged an open day event on the 12th of April 2011 which was aimed at breaking down barriers between the prison and its local community, changing the perceptions of life sentence prisoners and encouraging “buy in” from the outside, in terms of employment, study, funding and volunteering opportunities.
The event was organised in conjunction with the re-rolling of Kingston, from a security Category “B” to Category “C” Life Sentence prison. This means that the institution’s focus has changed to progressing those “people in care” to resettlement within the community upon release. The term “people in care” is seen as a better representation that describes people who have been ordered to serve sentences of various durations as a result of a conviction for serious offences. Ordinarily known as prisoners, the phrase “people in care” is preferred and a more suggestive term of life within the institution’s walls and unless one has been inside, it is almost impossible to appreciate the sentiment.
Annie Quinhentos and Alfred Lakudzala, two representatives from PAO were among those to witness, first hand, “Life after Life”, an open day overview of what happens when a person has been sentenced to life in prison after a criminal conviction. Following the abolition of capital punishment in the UK in 1965, Kingston Prison became an exclusive institution for inmates serving life sentences. Kingston has fulfilled its current role since 1968, undergoing various changes to make it more appropriate and compliant with modern standards
Events of the day commenced in the Community Centre, a building more popularly known as Austin House, around 9:00 am with a drinks reception, registration and allocation to syndicates. Syndicates were groups of between 8 and twelve guests and a prison guide. After introduction, the prison Governor Mr Ian Telfer gave a brief opening address of Kingston’s vision – Capacity to Change – and Kingston’s role within the ‘Big Society’ initiative. “The Big Society” as defined by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, “is one in which we all try and do more. We don’t just look to Government to solve the many problems that we have; we actually look to ourselves, to voluntary bodies, to companies, to charities, to all of those things to build a bigger country.”
Each syndicate then followed a pre-defined route on a tour of the prison, visiting various functional areas where guests were given a briefing of the area and have an opportunity to ask questions. The areas included prison industries where guests were shown printing equipment, painting and decorating workshop, drafting and design workshop. According to HMP service website, “the aim of the Prison Industries is to occupy prisoners in out of cell activity and wherever possible to help them gain skills, qualifications and work experience to improve their employment prospects upon release.”
Kingston Prison was built between 1874 and 1876 by French prisoners of war and is a listed building with many of the original Victorian architectural features. Originally the prison accommodated domestic life-sentenced prisoners, including men, women and children. Historic pictures are a stark reminder of this role.
Currently Kingston Prison has an annual budget of £6,000,000 (2010/2011), with an estimated annual cost per prisoner of £30,151 broken down into a weekly cost per prisoner of £580. According to the sources, www.insidetime.org, the annual budget allocated to the governor covers all major costs of running the prison but excludes most costs related to education and healthcare. These figures are based on budget divided by Operational Capacity.
A hot lunch gave the guests an opportunity to experience food prepared by prisoners from the diverse prison community.
The culmination of the events of the day was a speech by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Paula Riches, who among other things expressed her deep admiration of the way Kingston has integrated, and continues to, into the society through awareness campaigns, and how the institution is performing in preparing those in its care for life after life and subsequently life after release. The Lord Mayor empasised her commitment to the endeavours towards the continued improvement of life for both Kingston residents and the surrounding community and Portsmouth as a whole.