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Security clearance for working in prisons

One of the problems raised at the Arts Alliance launch conference was gaining access to prisons. Security is always a major hurdle. Whilst nobody would advocate slackening of security, practitioners face the prospect of having to fill in similar forms repeatedly, as ultimately, each prison is responsible for their own security clearances. This can be time consuming and causes problems with projecting schedules. Some prisons regard ex-offenders as a security threat. Arts practitioners come from all walks of life; some are ex-offenders. These are the very people most likely to relate to prisoners, but they can face barriers when applying to work in prisons. 

Offender Learning Matters raised this issue with Frances Flaxington, Head of the Partnerships Strategy Unit at the Ministry of Justice and Chair of the Arts Forum (The Government section of the Arts Alliance). Her office has clarified the situation:

"It is interesting that you raise issues concerning security and the difficulties that ex-offenders who support arts projects face in accessing certain prisons as this issue was discussed at the last Forum meeting.

Pre-employment screening is an administrative function within NOMS and covers verification checks to confirm satisfactory references, identity, nationality and immigration checks/criminal record checks. The purpose of these checks is to guard against employing anyone who presents a risk to the organisation or wider government. Under NOMS Prison Service policy previous criminal convictions, including those leading to a prison sentence or a formal caution, are not an automatic disbar to employment or work, each case must be considered on its own merits. In deciding who may work in a prison establishment recruiters need to be mindful of the need not to bring discredit upon the establishment or the Service as a whole.

In general, the policy relating to the employment of ex-offenders in any capacity within NOMS Prison Service is the same. However it is recognised that those seeking to challenge offender behaviour are often most successful when they can demonstrate similar life experiences to those they seek to support and there are examples of extremely positive work involving ex-offenders across the prison estate. 

Changes to the way in which NOMS Prison Service undertakes pre-employment checks is taking place, with a centralised service currently being rolled out. This will help support more consistent decision making and should go some way to resolving the difficulties you have experienced with establishments taking seemingly contradictory decisions and repeatedly obtaining clearances for individuals.

Where a voluntary organisation is seeking to enter several establishments it is recommended that the appropriate Area Resettlement Adviser/Reducing Re-offending Coordinator is contacted to assist organisations to gain access.

We will be exploring these issues further at the next Forum meeting in March 2009"

Partnerships Strategy Unit
Ministry of Justice