Serco return with specialist team to Turks and Caicos Islands

Serco knows the prison on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) very well, having been asked to deploy there for 14 months by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during 2017 and 2018.  Our remit then was to restore order at the prison in the aftermath of the two Category 5 hurricanes that devastated the region late in 2017.

In September this year, the Turks & Caicos Islands Government asked Serco for our help again to provide custodial support in the prison. This time the request arose because the arrival of the new Superintendent had been delayed, and the prison was temporarily relying upon assistance from local Police Officers after an incident of unrest when prisoners broke through internal fencing to where a wing is being rebuilt. TCI Government needed a small custodial team to support the daily operation, to help maintain stability, and to free up local officers to leave the prison to receive training being delivered by two HMPPS training managers, as well as allowing others to take much needed annual leave.

Serco deployed a team of 12 custodial staff led by two Assistant Directors, Danny Blake from HMP Dovegate and James Hodge from HMP Kilmarnock, with 10 volunteer Prison Custody Officers from across our UK custodial estate.  The COVID-19 pandemic did not reduce the numbers of Serco staff keen to volunteer - a couple of prisons had 30+ volunteers – however it did impact on the deployment.  Direct flights to TCI were impossible and the flight options that were available changed daily; government sponsorship was needed for transit visas just to be able to pass through Miami and staff COVID tests were required a few days before departure.  With ten kilos of PPE with them, the team arrived to find Grand Turk under curfew between the hours of 18:00 and 05:00, part of the island’s response to the pandemic. Luckily that curfew was relaxed to 20:00 during the month as there had been no significant COVID problems on the island which made operations a little easier.

The team were greeted on their first day by Althea Bean, the Permanent Secretary within the TCI Government.  They were also greeted by prisoners curious to see how far they could push the boundaries, as evidenced by an attempt to relieve a Serco officer of her keys and baton on the second day. The quick and instinctive reactions of PCOs Laura Jackson and Chloe Bonham meant they were able to de-escalate the situation which set the foundation for both prisoners and local officers acknowledging and respecting the professionalism of the Serco staff.

In a written blog recalling the time spent on TCI, Assistant Director, Daniel Blake spoke about the team’s first day in the prison:

“Our first day in the prison presented a full tour of the establishment, briefing with the Superintendent, opportunity to meet current Commanders and local staff. We adopted the communication strategy of engaging with staff and prisoners immediately trying to build a positive rapport and trust.

There were a number of changes in evidence since Serco were last in the prison, including new internal fencing, new staff uniforms and new staff equipment, such as stab vests; and work has commenced to rebuild the wing that burnt down in 2017.,. The 2020 team were keen to deliver improvements like their Serco colleagues before them, improvements to operational processes, but had to be realistic about what could be achieved in only one month, without an established Superintendent They did deliver however - over and above the terms of reference.  Some of the prison buildings were repainted; C&R refresher training for local officers was delivered; gym, basketball and high intensity interval training sessions were run for prisoners; a full security review and Security Strategy was carried out; the team ran cell and perimeter searching; built great relationships with the local Police and invested time in coaching and mentoring of local staff to help build confidence and skills. Three local staff, whose levels of engagement and achievement stood out, impressed the Serco team so much that they provided the Superintendent with Serco certificates to hand to them.  Thanks to the TCI tour 2020, the strong brand that Serco already enjoys on the island was strengthened further.