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Innovations in care for vulnerable people in custody

Innovation is one of the four core Values that shape our culture and how we deliver public services. Our people are always ready to challenge the status quo, champion new ideas, and apply innovative new thinking, tools and techniques to enable and enhance social outcomes. 

In our UK Justice business – as illustrated in the following two examples – our expert and insightful colleagues are focused on seeking out and developing new ways to help deliver our commitment to safeguard society and reduce reoffending by helping those in our care to turn their lives around. 

Providing enhanced care for children and young people

Responding to requirements from the UK Ministry of Justice for an ‘enhanced care package’ for children and young people aged 10-17, Vanessa Usher and Kerrie Newman created an entirely new Children and Young People Service into Serco’s wider Prisoner Escorting and Court Services operations (CYPPECS). 

“To find out what ‘enhanced care package’ meant to our service users,” says Vanessa, CYPPECS Operations and Safeguarding Manager, “we spoke to young people who have lived the experience, asking them to share their stories, feelings and insights.” 

Through these conversations, Kerrie and Vanessa pinpointed elements in the CYPPECS experience that can elevate stress and anxiety for children and young people and trigger counter-productive behaviours. 

“The associations with punishment, the isolation and loss of freedom, the alien and intimidating environments, the severe uniforms and austere procedures – this is a very scary and frustrating system for a child, more likely to shut them down than open them up,” explains Kerrie, Instructional Designer. “They don’t understand what’s happening or where they’re headed. They feel threatened and their instinct is to resist.” 

Kerrie and Vanessa set about building a more empathetic and accessible, multi-dimensional approach, much more conducive to positive outcomes for children and young people and the justice system. 

For example, they worked with Youth Offending Institutes, Secure Training Centres, and Secure Children’s Homes to develop video content telling the story of the journey through the system in a relatable, child-friendly way, which is made available on tablets during transit. They also worked with Stem4, the teenage mental health charity, to create a bespoke version of the Stem4 ‘Clear Fear’ app, which uses cognitive behavioural therapy to help manage physical responses to perceived threat. 

“Through the service we provide,” says Vanessa, “we facilitate the transition from fear and reticence to calm stability and openness. We work to achieve this through our people – as compassionate companions, not keepers, who wear softer uniforms and understand individual needs; our processes – recognising it to be a very personal journey, both physically and emotionally; and our technology – providing interactive and enjoyable tools to deliver learning and support wellbeing.” 

Helping to reduce prisoner self-harm 

Shannon Batt, a Forensic Psychologist in Training for Serco, recently developed a new programme, 'Break the Cycle' (BTC), which is helping to reduce prisoner self-harm at HMP & YOI Doncaster. 

Shannon had worked previously with self-harming individuals at a psychiatric hospital. At Doncaster, she recognised an opportunity to strengthen existing interventions with new tools specifically for participants who engage in prolific or repeated self-harm. 

Shannon’s solution was BTC. Designed to be interactive, engaging and suitable for all learning abilities, BTC covers such areas as healthy sleep and diet, emotional regulation and coping strategies, sense of purpose and self-esteem, and building relationships. The different modules complement parallel programmes and are prescribed to help individuals develop the skills they need to manage issues in a more pro-social way, helping to make prisons safer for everyone living and working inside.  

An early success story for BTC was Mr S., a prolific self-harmer who had been in care planning case management for many months. Successful engagement with BTC – his self-reported self-harm dropped by 93% – led to the closure of his case – a significant achievement."BTC has made a positive impact on my life and helps me when I'm struggling,” said Mr S. “I continue to use the tools every day from the minute I wake up." 

To date, nine individuals have completed or commenced BTC at HMP Doncaster. Work is underway to introduce it at other Serco-operated prisons. 

John Hewitson, Contract Director, HMP Doncaster, commented: “Shannon's motivation, compassion, experience, and knowledge of prisoners and their needs shines through in this fantastic piece of work which is close to her heart.” 

Sara Lockwood, Head of Safer Custody, HMP Doncaster, added: “BTC has given some of our most complex prisoners a different way to change behaviours and ways of thinking and develop their coping mechanisms.”