The Equalities Officer: working to bring representation to the wings

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The Equalities Officer: working to bring representation to the wings

“People on the Unlocked Programme really want to make a change. In this role, you have to learn to really appreciate the small wins. If you work hard, those wins can happen every day, and they do for me.”

Unlocked participant Katie recently took on the position of Equalities Officer in her prison. This role, gives her the opportunity to change culture on the wings; she’s working to amplify the prisoner voice through the creation of effective communication channels and run activities to support positive interactions and meaningful representation across the prison.

We talked with Katie about her first four months in the role and what the future holds:

What led you to apply for the role of Equalities Officer?
I wanted a change and a different type of challenge. This role would give me the opportunity to reach the whole prison and help a larger group of people.
I’ve learned so much in the four months that I’ve been in this role. The support that we can provide for the prisoners in this role is incredible. If all prison staff had the opportunity to work in this unit, even just for a few months, it would give them an insight into prisoner’s personal struggles as well as some of the agencies that they can point the prisoners down.

What impact do you hope to have in this role?
It’s all about changing the culture. In February, I ran an LGBTI+ History Month event with a raffle and a competition to raise awareness. I have also worked to implement the option to wear LGBTQ+ epaulettes across the prison staff to show support and raise awareness.

We’re also doing a newsletter which goes out in the wings, detailing the different events we’re running each month. The newsletters contain loads of useful information, I’m including lots of different interactive tools in them and even had a section that taught sign language for Deaf Awareness Week at the beginning of May. It’s been a really successful way of communicating and engaging the prisoners. I’ve also updated all of the equalities display boards across the prison to make them more colourful and engaging.

We’re working to accumulate reports and figures to help us plan for the future. This includes a recent report on an equalities and wellbeing questionnaire that we distributed across the prison. We got over 200 responses, which is a massive improvement on the 40 or so we received previously. My colleague and I are looking at the feedback to see how we can improve and promote a big culture change in the prison.

Have you had any response from the prisoners in your care as a result of taking this role?
I have meetings with the prisoners once a week, and now they’re saying, ‘Don’t worry miss, we can do this for you because it’ll make it easier for you to do that instead.’ It’s really nice to identify that they want to do something to help create a more representative and inclusive environment across the prison.

What are you most excited about implementing right now?
There are seven different strands of equalities that my role focuses on: race, age, disability, faith and belief, gender, LGBTI+ and veterans. I am creating and running sessions focussed on each of these strands with the prisoners, but the prisoners will lead the sessions. They will tell me what they’d like to learn more about, I’ll put the information together and create the sessions, and then let them peer-lead it.
I’m finding people who relate to each strand of equalities to come and speak about their experiences. They’re all quite excited about it! We have Prisoner Equalities Representatives, who want more information so that they can then pass on helpful information to the prisoners they are helping to support. We’re especially keen to improve communications now that we’re recovering from COVID.