(From left to right: Katherine, some dude from Hamilton in Aotearoa, Catia, Jen, Andy at Oxford University)

This year Katherine tasked some students to write a blog post. She has spent much of this week marking them. It’s been a good reminder that blog posts often convey important and significant information in an accessible way. So here is one about our recent trip to England…

We learned in Oxford about penal reform.

A month ago we attended the Howard League conference at Keble College in Oxford. At the conference we learned about penal reform. We got to present some of the work we’re doing around trauma informed sentencing, youth justice, prison violence, and rehabilitation. We were lucky enough to travel some lovely colleagues, Armon Tamatea, Catia Malvaso, and Jen Galouzis (representing two countries and three states).

We learned from HM Prisons about the challenges and benefit of working in a compassionate way.

After the conference, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit two Category B – high security men’s prisons – HM Prison Grendon Underwood and HM Prison Leicester. They could not have been more different! Grendon functions as a therapeutic prison community. We spoke with the staff and the residents about life there and how successful they thought it was to try to deliver intensive social therapy in a prison environment. We were impressed by their commitment to rehabilitation and their confidence that what they were doing was making a real difference.

Leicester was very different. It is a Victorian-era remand prison where everyone is housed in one very noisy, wing. It was previously referred to as the ‘suicide capital of the prison system’ and was pretty depressing. But this was a good reminder to us that people are sent to prison as punishment, should not be further punished. It was also obvious that the conditions that staff were expected to work under made their life very difficult. Opportunities for working in a compassionate way seems limited by the environment as well as by the regime.

We learned from Rampton Maximum Security Hospital about trauma-focused practice.

We then visited Rampton maximum security hospital and met with many of the staff. We heard about some of the great work that staff were doing to help people address the consequences of trauma. The staff there were passionate about making a difference. They told us about some of the therapeutic strategies that they were using, and which might also work in other settings.

We also learned we’re too old for this international flying malarkey.

After a week of jet-lag on return, we are ready to think about how we might apply what we learned in Australian settings and what it means for the Magnolia project. The visits were confronting, challenging, and inspiring – all at the same time. They highlighted the challenges faced by those in prison and those who work there. They also highlighted the possibilities for using prison time to make meaningful personal change.

It was clear to us that so much is possible. When our prisons are fully committed to treating people with dignity, they may offer them the opportunity to address the consequences of trauma and maltreatment in their lives. They may offer everyone reasons to feel optimistic about their futures. It is often the simple things that let people know that we have confidence in them. We trust in their ability to move on from the past and become productive and fulfilled members of our community.