Farming in Prison

CLA East has been to see how farming is being used to upskill prisoners who are soon to be released

HMP North Sea Camp is an open prison for men aged 18 and over near Boston in Lincolnshire. Lee Murphy has been to visit to see how farming is being used to upskill prisoners ahead of their release.

As an open prison, HMP North Sea Camp’s main focus is on resettling prisoners and getting them used to working in the community. Its category D status means there is minimal security and prisoners are allowed to spend most of their day away from the prison on licence to carry out work as they have progressed through the system and have been thoroughly vetted.

There are no fences or other means of containment as prisoners serving sentences, some of which are for extremely serious crimes, are not deemed to be a threat to society.

On the prison site is a farm covering around 250 acres where vegetables, flowers and salads are grown. There are also sheep, rare breed pigs and a range of other animals. There is a commercial element to the farm and much of the produce grown is used in the prison kitchen and there are ambitions for the prison to set up its own butchery.

Andrew Wright has been the farm manager at the prison since 2000. He comes from a family with a strong history in livestock farming and is involved in both the daily running of the prison farm and recruiting prisoners for roles within it.

The majority of prisoners working on the farm initially volunteer themselves through a job club and are then interviewed so that Andrew can get a better understanding of why they want to get involved.

Up to 50 prisoners are employed on the farm across a range of roles with some working with the livestock, others in the greenhouses, and some in the prison gardens.

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Andrew says he has seen significant positive changes to the prisoners who work on the farm. “It gives them a new outlook on life,” says Andrew. “The beauty of it is that by working here they (the prisoners) get the experience and the training and they can take that with them. It doesn’t suit everyone, but for those that the farm does suit they are really keen and enthusiastic.”

HMP North Sea Camp provides a variety of training opportunities for prisoners, including agricultural, horticultural and other food-related work. These include the City & Guilds NPTC Land Based Services qualification Level 2 competencies within horticulture, tractor driving and stockmanship.

With the majority of prisoners unlikely to have had any meaningful experience of working on a farm HMP North Sea Camp Prison Governor Colin Hussey says it can teach them some essential lessons. “The importance of the farm is that we can teach prisoners about the journey of where food comes from, we can teach them about looking after the land and caring for animals. We can also give them skills they would never have had before.”

Colin adds: “We’ve seen guys who have been doing lambing for us and they’ve been sitting in the lambing shed at two o’clock in the morning crying their eyes out because they are trying to get a lamb to take milk to make sure it lives. They would never have had an opportunity like that before.”

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Earlier this year, the Oswin Project, a registered charity set up in 2012 to improve ex-offenders chances of finding long-term employment on leaving prison, held an open day at HMP North Sea Camp. The aim was to encourage those involved in land-based activities to employ individuals released on temporary licence from open prisons and ex-offenders.

The open day set out the two main categories for employers to consider:

Released on Temporary Licence (ROTL)

Businesses offer training and work experience to a serving prisoner to see first-hand what individuals can offer. Suitable, risk assessed, prisoners leave prison each day to work for employers in the community. This can be full or part-time for up to two years before being released. They return to prison at the end of the day.

Employment on release

Businesses work with prisons and probation to find talent and offer employment to people at the end of their prison sentence.

Figures from the New Futures Network, a specialist part of the prison service that brokers partnerships between prisons and employers, show there are currently more than 11,000 serving prisoners employed by over 300 businesses or government departments. But only 17% of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release.

Gabi Gomez, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP North Sea Camp, says they have some skilled workers at the prison: “The skill set that we have got sitting here is not just your basic labour,” says Gabi. “We have people with all ranges of qualifications and you would be surprised by the skills we actually have.” Gabi adds substantial safeguards are in place for their ROTL programme for both prisoners and employers: “When they arrive in your workplace we don’t expect you to become a prison officer, we expect you to give someone a second chance to use the skills that they have got. If you have any concerns with somebody working for you then you pick up the phone and my team will come out and collect the person.”

Fiona Sample, Chief Executive Officer of the Oswin Project, adds: “You will know far more about them than any other person you would normally employ,” says Fiona. “Knowledge dispels fear and these are not high risk offenders we are talking about. We are there to mentor them and we are there to mentor and support employers too.” Fiona adds.

Matthew Naylor, Managing Director of Lincolnshire based Naylor Flowers, was among those who attended the event. He said: “It is well documented that there is a shortage of good workers in this area since we exited the EU. The thought of an untapped labour source of 400 men was the bit that initially got my interest.

“After visiting, I realised that the social benefits of creating work for offenders are even greater than the commercial ones. Hearing the prisoners, often men from tough urban backgrounds, talk about how they have discovered a love of lambing season was deeply moving.”