Millbank Primary School

Growing Together To Be Our Best

* Prison Govenor

Interview with Sian West Governor HM Prison CARDIFF on Monday 8th June 2009 2pm at Millbank Primary School with children of Dosbarth Laura Ashley/class 4. Class teacher Mrs Charlotte Brown, head teacher Miss Gail Allen.


Mrs West Introduced herself and told us a little bit about her job as Governor and the prison

Cardiff prison was built in 1832 as a county gaol on what was then the barren outskirts of Cardiff. The thick stone walls still survive today, but there has been lots of refurbishment and extensions most recently in 1996.


Mrs West told us that there were about 83,000 prisoners in England & Wales, but only 4,000 of those were women. Mrs west told us that Cardiff Prison should have 520 prisoners but has 784 so only one third of inmates had their own cell. HMP Cardiff is a Category B Local/Training Prison.


When people are caught by the police they are sent to court to be tried and if found guilty the judge will give them a ‘punishment decision’, this might be a fine, a community order or a custodial sentence in which case they come to the prison.


Prisoners wear gray jogging trousers, and a burgundy top, people who have been ‘remanded’ to prison whilst  awaiting trial are allowed to wear their normal clothes. Women prisoners are also allowed to wear their own clothes in Women's prisons.


She showed us the pouch where the keys she carries on a chain on a belt secured around her waist would be, some of us tried it on. The keys were of course in the prison as they were not allowed to be taken outside.


The class had researched the prison service and thought of a question to ask Mrs West She joked that she “did not like the ’E’ word and every time someone mentioned 'E'scape she had to sit down.“ In order to make things interesting she decided that she would choose which order she’d answer the questions and answer our number first question last. So these are the order the questions were answered.


1.) Has there ever been a prison escape at Cardiff?

Arrghh the ‘E’ word, I cannot believe that I have chosen that question first!! Yes the last escape was made by someone holding on to the underside of a vehicle as it drove out.


2.) The High Sheriff said he wanted “to promote the work of the restorative justice programme at Cardiff Prison.”can you tell us about that?

SORI ‘Supporting Offenders through Restoration Inside’ is the name of the scheme we developed in Cardiff Prison it is all about Restorative Justice. This gives the victims of crime the opportunity to show the effect that the crime has had on them or their communities. The prisoners get to see exactly what they have done, take responsibility and even make reparations. [you can read a bit here about SORI]


3.) What would you like to change about the role of Prison Governor, more powers, more funding?

I would like to get the families in more to help us rehabilitate the prisoners, I would like some of the powers Prison Governors once had such as extending a sentence for bad behaviour returned and more money would really help delivering a better more effective prison.


4.) What do you do to relax? What are your hobbies?

I love music, singing jazz classical even karaoke. I used to be in a band when I was at University. I like playing the piano if one was here now I’d be banging away on it. {we did offer to wheel one in from the Hall but time was short}


5.) Who would you most like to throw in jail and why?

Mmmm nobody. I think prison is a last resort and I would like them to be empty, because there would be no need for them as everyone would be law abiding.


6.) Do you believe that the death penalty reduces crime?

They have the death sentence in some parts of America for criminals who have committed murder but I do not think society has the right to take someone’s life even a murderers.  I think that a strong deterrent is very important, but my own personal view is that the death penalty is terrible and not a very effective deterrent.


7.) What were you like at school? Swot or troublemaker?

I was bossy a bit of a show off, {just like some of us} I did really well at Primary school passing 11+ but got distracted with music later on and did not do as well as I should have.


8.) What goals have you set yourself, how will you know if you have been successful in your job?

I want to get Cardiff back into the top group of prisons again. We get lots of inspections and reports at the prison. Personally my goals are to be happy and enjoy my work.


9.) Are there any questions you would like to ask us? Or would you like to suggest how pupils can work in their community?

Well when I said I’d come and see you I was worried that I may say things that may upset you with some of the facts about prisons. You have all been very grown up about this and asked some good questions. 
I think it’s important for you to realise that the laws apply to all of us, and it is only people who have been thought to break the law that come to prison. The other point is that the idea of Restorative Justice is a good one and could be applied to bullying and other worries in the school and community.


10.) What book/film character would you most like to be?

I suppose that I would rather like to be James Bond but then again I do not think I’d look good in his dinner suit and  so will go with Rita Sullivan from the Cabin in Coronation Street, she has got some great clothes for an old lady.


11.) What is your favourite film (Escape from Alcatraz, The Great Escape, Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile…?)

Well it is certainly not any with the 'E' word in the title. I do not watch many movies but from those I would suggest watching the Green Mile when you get old enough. Or read the Steven King book on which is was based.


12.) How do you get to be Prison Governor? Would you recommend a job in the Prison Service?

At University I was doing Educational Psychology and was thinking about going in to teaching.  However I was always interested in why people break rules and after I did a year working at Holloway Prison I decided to join the Prison service instead.
Yes I would recommend it as a career, we need good people, but it is very important that you have good people skills.


13.) Do you have a pet?

I have a ginger and white cat called ‘Spencer’ who likes to bring mice, birds or frogs into our house, sometimes it is just bits of mice, birds or frogs. We used to have a lovely dog called Jezabel.


14.) What is your proudest achievement to date? What would you most like to achieve?

I am most proud of getting a very good inspection report for the prison.
I would most like to achieve a nice calm job where I do not get frantic midnight calls.


15.) What is your best experience so far in the job? Is there anything you are looking forward to?

It is nice to see people turn themselves around and make something more of themselves.


16.) Can bad prisons make prisoners more likely to re-offend?

Yes they can, most prisoners come in with a ‘chip on their shoulder’ which means that they have a grudge against society, family or authority.  Just locking someone up with other criminals will only make matters worse. Good Prisons should be there to show the prisoners how to sort themselves out. Sadly 2 out of 3 prisoners still re offend and will come back to prison.


17.) How do prisons in the UK compare with those in other countries?

I think prisons in the UK are some of the best in the world and prisoners are treated much better. In some parts of the world conditions are very poor they are cramped, there might be no fresh water or hygienic conditions and they are not listened to.


18.) What is the most difficult part of your job?

Dealing with angry staff, if staff think that they are being asked to do too much in their job they can feel very upset.


19.) Mrs West then answered a few more questions from the Children and told us a bit more about her job.

Many of my prisoners have a Maths and Literacy age similar to you, they are those skills expected of 9-11 years old. Many stopped learning at this age either because they stopped attending High school or other problems. Often they are very embarrassed at their lack of reading or numeracy skills so improving their skills and confidence is key to helping them reform.


At the prison we have barber shop where they can learn to cut hair, they can also get a certificate in industrial cleaning, brick laying or IT and use it to get a job when they come out of prison.If they are working they are less likely to get in trouble


We all said a huge thank you to Mrs West for being so nice and giving up her time to come and tell us about the Prison. We learnt a lot not just about the Prison service but about management and people skills too. and had a great time!