HMP Doncaster recruits nightshift decorators and cleaners from its own residents

HMP Doncaster, managed by Serco on behalf of the MOJ was struggling to find cleaners, painters and decorators to work in the prison and have taken the initiative to get the prisoners to do these jobs at night instead.

The work was first commented on in HMP Doncaster’s most recent HMIP Repo, when the Inspectors said:

“The prison had created a cleaning and painting party of prisoners that worked through the night, under close supervision, in order to clean and paint parts of the prison that were difficult to get to during the day.”

The Times newspaper picked up on the story and carried an article, saying:

‘Interest in these proposed roles was well received by Doncaster’s residents, with prisoners clamouring to be considered for the jobs that were advertised. There were more than two hundred and eighty applicants, from which a team of ten was chosen to clean and decorate communal areas overnight, under the oversight of one prison custodial officer (PCO).

It is the only prison in England and Wales that has such as night shift. Jerry Spencer, former director of Doncaster who retired last month said:

“The prisoners are well behaved. They know if they mess it up, they will be off the painting party. It is a plum job”.

He admitted that the scheme was not his idea. “It could be seen as a risky practice”, Mr Spencer said. “Someone came to me with “the idea” and I was happy to give it a try. I am happy with the way it is working.”

Doncaster, which serves courts in South Yorkshire, has a turnover of about thirteen hundred prisoners every three months. They are only locked in their cells for an hour at lunchtime making it difficult to decorate and keep the corridors, showers and other communal areas clean.

The advert was posted last June on the prison’s kiosks where prisoners can log onto consoles to find out what is happening in the prison, book doctor’s appointments and visits.

Mr Spencer said:

“We reduced the applications to a shortlist and interviewed them. They were questioned about their work ethic and we looked at whether they had some qualification in painting and decorating or wanted to get a qualification to help find them work.”

Security was a priority because the men would be working at night when there were reduced staffing levels.

“The security department did their own checks. If you are going to ten prisoners out in the middle of the night with one officer with a bunch of keys there have to be checks and restrictions”, Mr Spencer said.

Once the prisoners are locked in their cells at 9pm, the painting and cleaning team gets ready for the shift, which starts at 9:30am until 4:30am with a thirty-minute break. They pick up their overalls and equipment from a store on the wing and are then “mobilised to start cleaning and decorating” the showers, communal areas and corridors, Mr Spencer said.

“Everyone coming into the jail comments on how clean it looks now” Jerry added.

The prisoners work up to five nights a week and are paid £10 per shift. One resident at Doncaster said: “It keeps us busy, motivated and instils a good work ethic.”

Another said: “It maintains a clean prison and keeps it decent. A clean house is a happy house. It makes us feel better, lifts the spirits and hopefully does the same for others”.’