On 6th February 2015, students from Year 13 'did time' at HMP Downview in Sutton. Their 3 hour sentence involved taking part in a drugs dogs training assessment, a tour of the wings and amenities, and lots of opportunities to speak to the staff about their work.
The prison service employs lots of specially trained dogs to carry out drug searches of prisoners' visitors and the wings. The dogs and handlers are assessed yearly, and our students helped by taking part in trials, some drug-free, and some with heroin and cannabis packets concealed in pockets! We were hoping the dogs would positively indicate where drugs were present – quite the opposite to the thought process of an actual prison visitor who is concealing drugs!
We should add that HMP Downview has a current prisoner population of zero! It closed as a female prison in October 2013 is in the process of being refurbished and reopened later this year as a male establishment. This afforded the students a unique, and safe, opportunity to see inside. They were shown around by a prison officer and a governor of the Offending Management Unit, and were able to see the visits area, reception, cells, wings, kitchens, bathrooms, yard, segregation unit and gym.
In the Autumn the Social Sciences students attended a 'Behind Bars' conference where ex-prisoners talked about their experiences of being inside prison, but this trip allowed the students to speak to staff to hear, perhaps, quite contrasting views! All of this tied in with studies in both Psychology and Sociology. Everyone escaped safely at the end of the day and we are all determined to keep on the straight-and-narrow to avoid a return visit!