HACRO has just celebrated its 40th Anniversary and during that time one of its main purposes has been to maintain and improve the links between a prisoner and his family and in particular with his children. It is recognised as a key factor in reducing offending and hence the overall level of crime. Visiting a prison is a stressful experience, and reducing that stress has long been one of the ways that HACRO has contributed in this area.
Improving the Prison Visit Experience:
Making Prison Visits Less Stressful
The Visitors’ Centre located just outside the front entrance to HMP The Mount is where the offenders’ families assemble to be checked in by the prison officers. This can be a lengthy procedure especially when there are young children involved.
HACRO organises the running of the Tea Bar just inside the Visitors’ Centre.
The Visitors can get a wide range of hot and cold drinks and snacks when they arrive. This is greatly appreciated as many of the visitors have travelled a long distance for their visit.
There is also a well equipped play area for the children in both the Visitors’ Centre and the Visits Hall where qualified play supervisors provided by the Hertfordshire CDA and Volunteers recruited by HACRO work alongside them.
In the year to September 2015, the Play Area welcomed 3289 Children- this is an extremely high number of users of the Play Area and a strong endorsement of the funding and volunteering work that makes the Play Area work so well.
Prisoners’ families can visit between 2 and 4pm on Wednesdays to Sundays, and also on Saturday and Sunday mornings. HACRO recently agreed with the prison that we would open the Visitor’s Centre at 12 rather than 1pm, to cater for visitors with very long journeys.
When the incoming visitors have been processed, they are then conducted through to the Visits Hall which is inside the prison. They have to undergo e security checks before they reach the Hall to make sure they are not bringing in restricted articles. The Visits Hall is a long room with tables and seats for the offenders and their families. There is a Coffee Bar in the Hall which is run by HACRO Trading Ltd, employing some of the offenders as Baristas where the offenders and their families can purchase coffee and cakes.
Thanks to a grant by the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, we were able to set up a separate area for older children to use, with table football in the Visits Hall.
An independent survey carried out last year showed how much visitors appreciate the services we provide, and led to the extension in opening hours.
Our ability to operate the Tea bar and the Play Area is very dependent on Volunteers and we are always looking for more!.
.. One volunteer saw an advert in a local church, having recently retired they were looking to do some voluntary work, so after ringing the prison, someone came and had a chat. The prison was near home, so they were pleased to sign up to help in the tea bar at the Visitors Centre. The volunteer helps with making rolls and toasties, selling cakes and sweets as well as hot and cold drinks. Working alongside other volunteers is also an enjoyable part of the work. Working in two on a rota system on the days that we are all free to help, we can work as many or as few afternoons as we wish.
Satisfaction comes from the work, especially chatting with the wide variety of people that they meet.