HMP Dartmoor: Our Journey Towards a Restorative Prison Community.

20 years of research and practice led us to the understanding that some essential communication skills are missing from mainstream society. Through our work within seven UK prisons, we have found that members of prison communities, where there are high levels of conflict of violence, are among those most receptive to learning new approaches to living in harmony.

Rather than seeing prisoners as a ‘problem to be fixed’, we work with the whole prison community, identifying the strengths on which to build and inspiring all members of the community – prisoners, staff, and families – to find and nurture their inner mediator.

At the heart of our approach is a communications framework rooted in the philosophy of nonviolence called the Dialogue Road Map (DRM). It provides a structured framework for getting past resistance, hostility, anger and aggression, transforming violence into co-operation. The aim is for all parties to the dialogue to be heard and understood, in order to find change through choice.

Now, in partnership with the Governor, Deputy Governor and Managing Chaplain, who share our vision of prisons as places of opportunity and change, we have a unique opportunity to create a pioneering demonstrator project: to create a restorative community within HMP Dartmoor. Dartmoor Prison wants to be able to give every prisoner and member of staff Dialogue Road Map training and apply it through a variety of in-prison and through-the-gate projects. This is a long-term undertaking.

Over three years, we aim to demonstrate how the Dialogue Road Map will reduce violence, conflict and re-offending, improve wellbeing, build effective relationships and develop self-responsibility and accountability, especially where there are complex and hierarchical stakeholders operating on reduced resources. Our intention is to create a culture change on the inside which translates into self-responsibility on release so that we reduce violence in society and therefore reduce the number of victims.

After a long period of planning, we held a fundraiser in Autumn 2016, hosted by Rory Bremner, and were blown away by the support we received.

The funds raised, together with grants from the Allen Lane Foundation and the Tedworth Trust, allowed us to start our work within the prison.

Dartmoor Prison

Since the start of 2017, we’ve:

  • Undertaken an audit of communications and conflict within the prison, to use as a baseline against which to measure progress
  • Trained 3 cohorts of prisoners and prison officers as DRM facilitators
  • Had over 10 cases conducted by Prisoner Mediators
  • Placed a prisoner facilitator to assist with Induction
  • Begun a prisoner family mediation project, helping to build relationships between prisoners and their families and resolve disputes.

In August 2017, the prison was inspected and the inspection report – published in December 2017 – makes a number of positive references to how our work is starting to create change within HMP Dartmoor:

“Some innovative conflict resolution strategies were being embedded. Some staff and prisoners were trained in “dialogue road mapping”, a new tool developed by the Centre for Peaceful Solutions to encourage non-violent communication. They could be called on to mediate in disputes. The well-publicised initiative was explained to men on their induction.”

“The new and innovative ‘dialogue road mapping’ initiative and use of mediation supported men in resolving disputes and tensions without using violence.”

“The chaplaincy offered very good pastoral support. The team was involved in the induction process, spending every Monday morning with new arrivals to discuss their attitudes to the integrated regime and highlight interventions like the dialogue road map, a form of mediation, which the new managing chaplain had helped to introduce.”

“There were several initiatives to support family contact, including family conferencing (a mediated formal meeting to promote dialogue and understanding).”

During 2018

The DRM project at Dartmoor Prison has now taken root and we have a solid direction.

 We now have a small cohort of prisoners trained as DRM Facilitators who work full time on prison pay and take regular supervision and ongoing training. The group is supported by a small team of trained prison officers.

 We are in the process of creating a DRM wing as an enabling environment for prisoners with complex issues who have reached out for help. This work is in process as we begin transitioning the wing

Over 4 days we conducted a number of open circles with prisoners, officers and staff from supporting organisations to introduce the DRM as a way of transforming prison communication. Prisoners were convinced that these principles would help prisoners who struggle and were keen to support the project. Officers were divided in their response with the majority supporting the project but some were change averse which means there is more transformational work to do. We have a number of officers interested in becoming DRM trained to take on the running of the wing using restorative practice and DRM circles. So huge progress is being made.

 The DRM has been recognised in the Prison’s Inspection Report and in a recent audit on violence and self harm.

 Plymouth University have conducted scoping research and will be seeking funding for a full academic research project

 The Governor and Senior Management Team are making changes necessary to facilitate the project.

Our future plans are to train all members of the prison community in the Dialogue Road Map, to build a team of 50 DRM Facilitators – both prisoners and prison staff and to leave a legacy in the prison so they can self train on an ‘each one teach one’ basis.

To enable these plans to come to life, we urgently require more funding, something of a challenge in a sector in which competition for scarce resources is increasingly intense. We invite you to become part of our journey for change by donating what you can, or putting us in touch with Trusts, Foundations, or donors who may be interested in supporting this cause.

We’re always happy to meet over a cup of tea, so if you’re interested in learning more about our Dartmoor journey or becoming a supporter, please get in touch.

All funds will go on our 2 year project, providing inmates and staff at Dartmoor prison with the Dialogue Road Map

Read our first update on our work at Dartmoor!