As damning stories of the state of some of our prisons hit the headlines, the need for an independent voice on conditions is more important than ever. Her Majesty’s Prison Cardiff may seem a strange place to spend one’s spare time, but this is what a group of local people do each week of the year in order to monitor conditions and bring any concerns to the attention of prison managers and the Ministry of Justice. Every prison is required to have an Independent Monitoring Board and its members have the responsibility of observing conditions throughout the prison. “We draw keys and have complete access to the prison,” explained Steve Cocks, Chair of the Cardiff Board. “Our basic task is to monitor that expected standards of decency and care are being maintained, but also to monitor that the support is in place which will allow prisoners to turn their lives around. We believe that we are doing a vital job and, although it can be demanding, it is varied, interesting and rewarding.”
Board members carry out a wide range of activities within the prison, including sampling food, checking the condition of cells, visiting education facilities, monitoring the admission of new prisoners and sitting in on the Governor’s disciplinary hearings. “We are also called out in the event of any serious incidents in the prison, though these are rare,” commented Mr Cocks. “Like all prisons, Cardiff has faced a number of challenges, but it is generally a well run prison. I have never felt uncomfortable during my visits. Prisoners overwhelmingly value the work of the Board and are positive towards us.” Prisoners often request to speak to a member of the Independent Monitoring Board over a range of matters, such as requests for transfer, access to medical care and arrangements for visits.
The work is voluntary and so Board members are not paid, though expenses are paid and it is possible to claim loss of earnings. Board members are usually expected to make three to four visits to the prison each month, including a monthly Board meeting. A member can serve up to 15 years on one Board and the fact that so many people do so is clear evidence of how rewarding the role can be. There is a well developed programme of support and training for new members. “We are looking for people who might want to join us,” explained Mr Cocks. “Board members are not required to have any particular qualifications, but need to have common sense, tact, a sense of fairness, good communication skills and be open minded. If there are local people who want to do something a little different, want to make a valuable contribution to the community and enjoy working as part of a team, we would like to hear from them.”
More information and an application form is available from: http://www.imb.org.uk/join-now/current-vacancies . Anyone wanting to talk to a Board member can ring 02920 923342 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .