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Carys describes her two weeks working with the Ministry of Justice

Work placement: The Ministry of Justice

Carys worked for two weeks in the Ministry of Justice as part of our work placement scheme, which gives our participants the opportunity to experience a variety of different professional environments.

I have had the pleasure of working with various teams in the Ministry of Justice over the last two weeks, exploring what initiatives and organisational changes are being made to tackle the systemic problems faced by the prison system Admittedly, I arrived in Petit France expecting to feel like a fish out of water, but my worries were soon put to ease when I was introduced to the ‘Workforce Strategy Team’ who were very welcoming and seemed genuinely excited to have me on board.

Armed with 18 months operational experience, I wanted to hear about current provisions and plans being developed to encourage learning and development opportunities within the prison workforce. More broadly speaking, the team were aiming to raise the status of prison officers by using leadership-development strategies, and so this initiative closely aligned with my personal values and that of Unlocked Graduates. I was therefore keen to provide my input and views on what development opportunities I have been exposed to at my prison and how this has shaped my practice on a day-to-day basis. This led to me being invited to attend a meeting directly with Prisons Minister Rory Stewart at the Houses of Parliament where a proposal on tackling this issue would be delivered.

I was then allocated to work with the ‘safety and security team.’ Before I joined, I had wondered how much operational experience and input was given in these decision-making processes. Much to my delight, their team was structured 50/50 between operational and non-operational staff. This was highlighted to be a unique, yet highly advantageous structure and one they wished would be replicated elsewhere across the organisation. Using robust, evidence-based pilot schemes tackling issues around self-harm, violence and debt gave me hope that this was a motivated and driven workforce trying to meet highly demanding expectations and deliver significant frontline improvements – quickly. It also encouraged me to look beyond my experience of the female estate and gave me a broader perspective on wider considerations that must be made to meet the needs of a variety of prisons. Whilst delivering consistency remained at the heart of these proposed changes, I saw first-hand how challenging it is to plan a standardised strategy when most of these issues were like an ever-changing jigsaw puzzle!

I then joined the ‘Parliamentary team’ who oversee a much broader, more complex process of implementing and amending legislation at a national level. Having an insight into the process of delivering these changes, and the close relationship with the press, highlighted the importance of cross-departmental communications.

Following this, I spent two days away from Petit France and ventured over from prison-focused policy to operational probation work. This insight was hugely beneficial for me in my current decision-making process about where I want my career to be directed. I was exposed to the opportunities of working for the probation service both in the community and the courts, an area I was yet to explore but now have a real interest in. Gaining an awareness of this was very beneficial in understanding the current binary relationship that is held between prison and probation and motivated me to want to deliver a more holistic role.

I then started the second week of my placement working with the ‘prison performance measurement team’ – who create systems for evaluating prisons based on various measures. Determining what measures indicate a ‘successful’ prison had  complications due to the often subjective nature of what a successful prison should look like. I also enjoyed using my frontline experience to add context to the data – for example by explaining why there may be a concentrated number of a particular type of incident at certain times, therefore creating data inconsistencies. I was also involved in some interesting discussions around the use of targets and what realistic, attainable goal-setting looks like when assessing how establishments are performing. I hope to have encouraged better communication between the performance measurement teams and operational staff to establish a more effective method of depicting prison performances.

I finished the week working in the Prison Minister’s office, which was a great experience (if a bit daunting!). This made me realise the importance of presenting succinct and efficiently summarised information. Time is extremely limited – as I soon came to realise when I was physically running alongside him in the Houses of Parliament from one meeting to the next in an attempt to have him sign letters of correspondence and present box notes on policy papers and latest stats!

I was also asked to write various ‘box notes’ myself as well as proof-read correspondence letters. I was invited to attend a meeting with the Secretary State of Justice Mr David Gauke on proposed drug-force strategies, and sat in a debate on the disclosure of youth criminal history and how this impacts employment prospects. MP David Lammy spoke passionately in this debate, and it was a privilege to hear him, given his influence on the changes made to tackle BAME issues in the criminal justice system.

The week has been rounded-off nicely with an invitation to deliver a presentation on my time on the Unlocked Graduate scheme, reflecting on some of my experiences over the last 18 months. I can fully recommend this work placement and encourage active participation in policy reform. It provided me with a very diverse and enjoyable two weeks where I continued to learn more and more about the civil service while surrounded by positive, ambitious and passionate public servants. Whilst I was pleasantly surprised at the presence of some operational staff leading these changes, I can only encourage more of this to make these changes most effective and sustainable. I hope to return to work in policy development in the future.

Work placements are an integral part of the award-winning Unlocked Graduates leadership development programme. If you’re interested in offering a work placement with your organisation, please contact our Development and Partnerships Manager Ally Steel.