Serco Justice’s Covid-19 Response

We asked Wyn Jones, Serco’s Custodial Operations Director about the Serco response to the Covid-19 pandemic. With over thirty-seven years working in prisons, Mr Jones is an experienced hand when it comes managing custodial contracts.

1. In March, when the government put in place measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19, what changes were implemented to the prison regime?

Wyn Jones: “Serco runs six prisons in the UK and we needed to respond quickly and effectively to the pandemic and make sure that we reflected the direction of Government for the community.

“As a result, prisoner visits were suspended; all movement was restricted and both Serco employees and prisoners were provided with information and guidance on staying safe.

“But at the same time our teams had to ensure that services continued to be delivered and that the welfare of our employees and prisoners continued to be a priority.

“So, for example, we’ve given additional phone credits for prisoners to communicate with friends and family from their cells; sent out information and regular updates; provided regular welfare checks and undertaken additional cleaning.

“I also want to give a shoutout to LJ Flanders AKA “Cell Workout”, Rowen Makenzie and the Kestrel Theatre Company who have all generously donated resources for prisoner enrichment activities from in cell exercise guides to creative writing courses.”

2. With movement and activities suspended for prisoners, what measures have been put in place to ensure prisoners well- being?

Wyn Jones: “We have introduced additional welfare checks and changed staff rotas to ensure prisoners have the support they need, which has provided an opportunity for innovation and adaptation. One example of this has been the creation of the ‘In Cell Enrichment Hub’ which has provided prisoners with options and choices of activities to promote continued learning and positive engagement.

“Using the Enrichment Hub, all the Serco managed prisons have put in place some great initiatives that have been pulled  together into one overall programme.   It has different elements to fit the individual needs of each prison, but with a common aim and direction.  Each prison has a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) and fresh activities and material are added weekly and it also provides a platform for the SPOCs to share ideas and avoid duplication”.

So what sort of things have you added for prisoners?

Wyn Jones: “Some examples are creative writing lessons, in cell workouts and puzzles and quizzes. In addition, snack packs have been given to prisoners to keep prisoners fed whilst waiting in between meals. Prison departments such as healthcare can perform consultations over the phone via the prisoner’s in cell telephone.”

3. How did you communicate these changes to prison staff and residents?

Wyn Jones: “Information about the programme was communicated in many ways to ensure clarity and a consistent message using leaflets and posters, cell drops and the in-cell phones.

“Officers have been conducting welfare checks, Q&A sessions, prisoner representative meetings, socially distanced of course, and information displayed on prison ATMs were all used to help.”

“Internal departments communicated via the in-cell phones and the in-cell TVs were used to broadcast Q&A, welfare services and religious / faith-based services directly into cells. This was especially effective through Easter and Ramadan.”

4. What have been the most valuable lessons you have learned during this challenging time?

Wyn Jones:

“We conducted a survey to gain feedback on the resources and procedures currently in place and gain any suggestions from prisoners, this resulted in some really good feedback from the prisoners as well as from the SPOCs and other employees who have been grateful for the additional resources on offer.

“The main thing that has really impressed me - and all the Serco management team - has been the amazing work from our teams.  The response from all our officers and everyone working at all the prisons we run has been quite outstanding, in what are the most challenging circumstances I have ever seen on my 20 plus years of working in prisons.  One of the nice things we did was to reach out to our employees’ families and their children have been sending in drawings of their relative who works in prison that have been wonderful.

“Secondly, I have been very impressed at the reaction and gratitude of the prisoners themselves, who have thanked officers for continuing to come into work and for going above and beyond to keep them safe and well and look after them.  We have had thank you messages from prisoners and their loved ones that were lovely to read and see”.