Antiques dealer takes over as head of prison watchdog
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
THE new head of Deerbolt Young Offenders’ Institution’s independent monitor board (IMB) is hoping to improve the community’s understanding of the jail.
Barnard Castle antiques dealer Charlie Ing took up the post of IMB chairman on January 1, after having served on the board for more than four years.
He said: “There is a stigma attached to prisons, but it is almost like a school environment. It is a bit like being back in class.
“It is a positive for the prison and its staff because during a visit it doesn’t look daunting and you feel as safe as it can be.”
The prison’s education is diverse, he said, ranging from gardening to a bike workshop and some prisoners are even tackling university courses.
Mr Ing said: “It is very successful. You can see it in the town [Barnard Castle] with all the gardens.
“The prison has the contract to do the summer and winter planting. The flowers are a testament to Deerbolt.”
However, he said, the Covid-19 pandemic had been a real test for the institution with prisoners no longer having access to the education rooms, and due to shortages as a result of staff self-isolating, the inmates were spending longer hours in the cells, leading to mental health concerns.
He said: “It has been hard to put on a normal regime.”
Also, a problem has been family visits to the jail. Day visits were re-introduced but proved unsuccessful because of the glass partition placed between the family and prisoner being visited.
Instead a new scheme of “purple visits” has been introduced whereby a prisoner can see and speak to their family using a laptop and a unique tightly-monitored Skype-type computer program.
Mr Ing said: “Purple visits have been a massive success. It means it is safe for both sides and the family does not have to travel to the prison.
“Because of Covid they have learned new things that can be used in the future. I think the prison is learning a lot going forward.”
Currently, Deerbolt’s IMB has 12 members, all from local communities within about a 15-mile radius of the prison.
Mr Ing said the role of board members is to visit the prison, meet prisoners and identify “what is good and what is not so good” about the institution.
He said: “We are the prisoners’ independent voice, which is really important at the moment.
“We can see things with a different view [compared to prison staff] and with fresh eyesight.”
Apart from regular prison visits to interview prisoners and monitor progress, some board members are given responsibility for specific areas, such as education, health care and segregation.
Mr Ing said: “Members visit the prison one day a month as a guide, but you can find yourself doing as much as you can.”
Alongside Mr Ing, Susan Rolt has been appointed as vice-chairwoman of the IMB and both will serve in their posts for a year.