HMP Askham Grange is an open prison and young offenders institution in Askham Richard, near York. It has an operational capacity of 128 women, all housed in an impressive Manor house built in 1846, originally as a private residence, before being leased to the prison service in 1947, where the first open womans’ prison in the uk began.
HMP Askham Grange are at the forefront of education to aid rehabilitation. They have received ‘outstanding’ results in all 3 OFSTED inspections spanning over the last 11 years, and the teaching staff recently took home the award for ‘outstanding teaching’ at the LTE Group Awards!
Life at Askham Grange
As standard practice amongst all uk prisons, on entering the prison woman are given an interview and an assessment. During this time they are told the rules, their rights and courses available to them, healthcare requirements are also assessed, and a plan is then put in place.
The women will be given a security category, this is based on how likely they are to attempt an escape, and what threat of harm they pose to other prisoners or themselves. They may be moved elsewhere if they are not deemed suitable for the open prison environment.
Their privileges and rights depend very much on their behaviour, good behaviour can mean earning more visits and time with family, or more money to spend each week. Bad behaviour may restrict time out of their cell, or end up in certain luxury items being removed, for example the television from inside their cell. Breaking the rules could also put upto an additional 42 days on to the end of their sentence.
All prisoners are entitled to the same rights:
- Protection from bullying and racial assault
- The freedom to contact a solicitor at any time
- Healthcare, including mental health support
Mothers and babies
In April 2019 the prison underwent an inspection, and was awarded the highest rating possible. One of the reasons for the high rating was the excellent services provided for mothers and their children.
The mother and baby unit, complete with a well-equipped nursery was described as an ‘excellent facility’ and it was clear that both mothers and babies thrived there.
In the mother and baby unit, there is room for 10 mothers and their children (up to 18 months of age) to live together full time. Each room is a single, private room, unlike in the main prison where most rooms are shared. Social workers are on call, and various baby groups, classes and activities are held, to support and help the relationship between mother and baby flourish.
Mothering from the inside…The introduction of Acorn House
Only 5 percent of children whose mothers are imprisoned, remain in the house they were living in prior to their mothers sentence.
Only 9 percent of children are cared for by their father during their mothers sentence, contrasting with 90 percent of children cared for by their mother if their father is imprisoned.
The implications to a child, when their mother is imprisoned, are huge. The effect it can have on the mother can also be catastrophic. Losing contact because of incarceration is quite often a mothers biggest fear, this can lead to a plummet in mental wellbeing, and subsequent substance abuse and self harm, therefore having a detrimental impact on the womans’ rehabilitation and re settlement.
Acorn House is a residence within the grounds of the prison, which is solely to aid this relationship between mothers and their children. The house consists of single occupancy rooms, in a residential type setting to enable women to spend time, and have overnight stays with their children.
Acorn Family Centre is managed by Barnardos, the staff organise trips for the children, as well as trips out for the mothers and their children together, like swimming. Staff are not just there to support the children, but also to assist the mothers and develop their confidence as competent mothers, so that they are able to continue the care for their own children on release from prison, this care and consideration has proven to reduce the act of re offending on release.
To the outside world, it may seem like there may be safeguarding issues involved, however, the local Safeguarding board are in agreement of the scheme, and Social workers are heavily involved. Each case is treated on an individual basis, with the needs of the child being the most important, at all times.
The mothers who use Acorn House must work alongside the Family Learning Team, and it is a necessity that they have their activities planned and approved prior to their visit. The mothers are taught skills and problem solving strategies’ as well as how to approach individual issues, for example engaging with a young child who is perhaps angry with their mother. Partners are strictly forbidden to even enter Acorn House, preventing any arguments and complications for the children.
Acorn House is a safe place, a place for mothers to, simply be mothers, and children to be cared for by their mothers. In a situation, which isn’t ideal by any means, it’s a place of privacy, and a little bit of ‘normal’, vital for healing those potentially otherwise broken relationships.