“I learned that mediation can save lives”

Prisoner serving life for murder after receiving our training

Violence Reduction and Safer Custody: the Dialogue Road Map

To anyone who knows about prisons, they can be very violent places for both prisoners and staff. Hierarchies exist among prisoners and most prisoners believe that showing any vulnerability can make the person a target.

When we go into a prison we train prisoners to be mediators using the Dialogue Road Map. Prisoners are selected on a number of criteria: either they are high status on their wings or they have committed a violent crime or they are perceived as violent or they are trusted by other prisoners.

The trained mediators use this training to resolve conflict on their wings. For example; Ali (name changed to protect identity) was able to intervene when an argument that had been brewing between rival gang members, both working in the prison kitchen, began to escalate. He used the Dialogue Road Map to gain an agreement that they would serve their time without further hostilities and keep out of each other’s way.

We cannot take pictures or recordings inside prison but here is some feedback on our work:

“I learned that there are easier ways in which to solve disputes and that the way we talk has an impact on what reply we get”

“I can use these excellent skills in everyday and family life”

“Maria has helped me in a massive way”

“Maria as a trainer is unbelievable. She makes things very easy to understand and it’s easy to take things from her”

“I will never have an argument the same way again”

“The trainers did a boss job. They were very easy to learn from and talk to”

“This process will help to resolve problems in prison”

“I never knew you could solve an argument by talking”

“I would jump at the chance to do this again and would recommend this to anyone in or out of prison. I rate it 20 out of 10 and can’t thank them enough for how it’s changed the way I look at things”

Restorative Practices in Prison: Every Conversation Matters

Prison Officers and Staff in prisons suffer from spending cuts which have reduced the numbers of staff on a wing. This means that goodwill on all sides is really important for safety. To build goodwill we devised a training programme for Prison Staff called Every Conversation Matters.

Communication usually precedes action therefore a respectful dialogue is less likely to generate a violent or abusive response.

In our Every Conversation Matters training, officers and staff are introduced to ways of communicating which are assertive yet respectful.

In the post questionnaire, staff are asked what they had learnt and how they would use what they had learnt in their daily roles. Responses to these questions are grouped into four themes below:

Improving communication skills

To think about what I’m saying before saying it’.

‘Words or choice of words is very important’.

‘Speaking to prisoners. To listen before reacting’.

‘Listen more to find out what the bigger picture is’.

‘To take more time in how I am coming across’.

‘Listening to both sides of the problem then trying to explain or reason’.

Dealing with confrontation

To de-escalate challenging situations’.

‘To make the job day to day better for all’.

‘To try and diffuse animosity and anger vented towards me’.

‘To resolve problems’.

‘Reduce stress and conflict’.

Understanding needs

Everyone has needs to be met’.

‘Learnt how people feel – different things that make them act/ react in certain ways’.

‘That everyone has needs to be met. How we get there is what can be addressed’.

‘Be more understanding of other people’s needs’.

‘Identify needs and strategies to attain goals’.

‘Remember what both our needs are and how we will meet those needs’.

Reinforcement of current behaviour

‘I’ve learnt that the principles I employ in my approach to dealing with negative or resistant behaviour have grounding in the same philosophy being instructed today’.

‘I already use this but have been reminded to carry on using it’.

‘I am already using these skills, however I feel what I have learnt today has given me fresh ideas to help me to be a better communicator’.

Prison Family Mediation Service: Our trained volunteers acting as intermediaries

Did you know that:

  • Close to half (45%) of prisoners lose contact with families whilst inside yet keeping family contact and overcoming tensions is proven to reduce re-offending and domestic violence
  • Having family support helps offenders re-integrate and find jobs
  • Many offenders have little or no self-esteem; many suffer from acute or mild mental illness

While delivering our Dialogue Road Map training, the men noticed that they were having better quality conversations with their wives and girlfriends. It became clear that there are many tensions when a family member is in prison and without good communication skills these tensions can descend into relationship breakdown, family breakup, child contact issues or estrangement.

When family conflict arises, of course, the consistent losers are always the children.

As a result of these conversations and considering the impact on the children, Maria had a vision for supporting prisoners and their families through mediation using the Dialogue Road Map. This is a whole new way of supporting offenders and their families by facilitating the conversation between them to resolve current and historical tensions and offering coaching on how to avoid potential conflict.

For example, Rob, aged 21 was due to leave prison in 6 weeks, it was his cannabis habit that put him in jail in the first place and his parent were against him coming home and influencing his younger brother. During the session, Rob agreed that he would not see the friends that he had got into trouble with when he left prison, who were due to pick him up on release, and his father agreed to collect him on release and bring him home. In turn Rob agreed to become a role model for his younger brother since he did not want him to end up in prison. His mother was delighted to see the rift between father and son begin to heal.

We would love to answer your questions, hear your experiences, talk more about our work and explore opportunities

Please email us here.