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.
In partnership with the Governor, Managing Chaplain and senior management team who share our vision of prisons as places of opportunity and change, we were given a unique opportunity to create a pioneering demonstrator project; to create a restorative community within HMP Dartmoor and through the gate.
Over three years, we demonstrated how the Dialogue Road Map reduces violence, conflict and re-offending, improves wellbeing, builds effective relationships and develops 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.
With 4 members of the Senior Management Team offering to take responsibility for the project additional to their responsibilities, the new Governor agreed to rebuild the project.
In May 2023 we have trained 7 Facilitators to join the remaining 2.
The Team of 9 are dedicated to supporting prisoners who are struggling. This could be because of conflict, substance misuse, debt, mental health issues or family problems. They help the prisoner to get to the core of their issue in confidence and monitor progress over six one to one sessions. These
sessions may result in more sessions, talking to prison officials or support getting a referral for professional help. Working at this core level has reduced the number of mediations needed to almost none.
Currently the Facilitators are undergoing the Self Reflection pack in order to better understand themselves and know what it is like to go through before making it available to specific prisoners who need more intense help.
The prison went into lockdown with 23 hour lock up for all prisoners and 24 hour lock up for those testing positive for Covid.
Over these two years we were unable to visit the prison and the project began to disintegrate. Facilitators were moving on to open prisons or being released and at our worst point we had 2 men left who were managing their own person issues such as a death in the family.
To make matters worse the Governor who had made this project work took early retirement.
Even so, the dwindling Facilitators were dedicated and would give up their one hour unlocked to support someone who was desperate or suicidal knowing how some prisoners were not coping.
The team has grown to 25 Facilitators. We are experiencing the usual tensions in a large group stemming from the workload and the new need to organise better. The men are working out systems for organising so that they can operate more efficiently.
They created small committees for Team Wellbeing, Rota Management, Facilities and Venue preparation, Casework meetings, Outreach to Prison Council and other groups and Practice Groups.
They elect a Chair person every quarter to run the group meetings.
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.
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).”
All funds donated here will be restricted to our prison and Life after Prison projects.