A new group which aims to forge closer links between prisoners and the wider community has been launched at Bovingdon’s HMP The Mount.
Friends of The Mount includes borough and parish councillors, local employers, volunteers at the prison, and also a representative from prison management.
Governor Steve Bradford said: “I am pleased to support initiatives that encourage the prison and the community to work together for mutual benefit, and it is particularly encouraging that this initiative is led by local people, from all parts of the community.”
At the new group’s launch, a public bench to be installed in Bovingdon’s village centre was unveiled, which was made prisoners trained in skilled woodworking in one of the prison’s workshops.
The bench is sponsored by Rough Stuff, a local bespoke rustic oak contractor that works with the prison.
Kim Hobbs, Friends of The Mount chairperson, said: “Until I volunteered at the prison, I knew very little about it, despite it being situated at the heart of the community.
“The prison is both a major local employer and a contributor to the local economy, employing large numbers of people directly and indirectly.
“In small ways we hope that our work will support that of the prison by building better links across community groups.”
A volunteers day held at the prison – which is the only one in the whole of Hertfordshire – also saw three offenders receive their certificates for passing a prison-run Barista course.
Internationally recognised, the course is an important part of helping offenders to find work after release.
More than 50 volunteers who help with prisonsers’ community engagement attended the event, with one saying of their role: “I love doing it, and I find the one-to-one communication fantastically rewarding.
“It’s a very demanding and challenging role, but worth it.
“Offenders, at times, might feel that they can’t talk to staff or the governor, which is why volunteers are so important to bridge that gap.
“Some feel that anything they say could be put on their record, so the one to one with a volunteer is a way for them to talk about their past and deal both with that and their plans for the future.
“When you can change lives through voluntary courses, it’s great to see how the offenders change – first their attitude, and then their lives.”
The prison’s governor Steve Bradford also hosted an Employers Breakfast with Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce inviting more than 40 county business and local authorities to learn about the work being done to give prisoners employability skills in a range of trades, to assist their re-integration back into the community.
At the event, firms Smith’s Coffee Retail, Timpson Foundation and DHL talked about the benefits of training and employing prisoners after release.
Mr Bradford belives preparing prisoners for work and the employment of offenders is an important element in reducing re-offending, wunder the government’s Rehabilitation Transfomation scheme.
According to the governor, statistics indicate that prisoners who have employment on release are less likely to re-offend.