User Voice has established councils in more than 25 prisons to try to create space for solution-focused dialogue between residents and staff
Mark Johnson calls himself “hard as nails”, but the ex-offender and former drug abuser was nearly reduced to tears on stepping inside the women’s prison HMP Bronzefield in August.
The organisation Johnson founded in 2009, User Voice, gives residents and staff a way to work together to improve things: prison councils. Prisoners are elected by inmates and prison staff to represent their community. The usual elements of an election apply: manifestos, speeches, and cheers when results are announced.
Give stories, not stuff
“Prisoners know what is working and what’s not and have suggestions for how to improve things,” says Daniel Hutt, chief operating officer at User Voice. “But governors and senior managers don’t have an easy route to speaking to prisoners in a very honest and open way.”
Since 2009, User Voice has established councils in more than 25 men’s prisons to try to create space for solution-focused dialogue between residents and staff. HMP Bronzefield is the first women’s facility to have invited the charity inside.
For people who have been discarded and marginalised, actually being listened to makes a huge difference to their sense of self-worth
Carley O’Hara volunteered to help with the ballot on the day. As an ex-offender, she found returning to where she was once detained daunting and emotional. But it was a positive experience too because, she says, residents were so enthusiastic. Issues such as food, receiving prescription medicines on time, and new opportunities for ‘lifers’ inspired almost everyone…
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