Awards for outstanding support


For the first time, the PLA introduced an award ceremony to recognise and reward those people who go the extra mile to promote and encourage learning in prison. The conference's inaugural awards recognised the 'Outstanding' commitment of teachers, prison officers, prisoner mentors and other individuals. This year, for the first time, we invited prisoner learners to nominate in the four categories.

One prisoner peer mentor, handcuffed to an officer escorting him, collected his award in front his family and over 100 practitioners. The event heard how he devotes his time to motivating other prisoners who are struggling with their studies and as a result the nominating prisoner was now ‘excelling’ at education.  An award winning officer was described ‘a beacon of light and hope’ and one of the winning teachers was described by the nominating learner as someone who ‘believed in me and refused to let me fail.’

Alexandra Marks, PLA Chair, said: "The awards reminded us that we must not forget the many outstanding teachers, prison officers, prisoner mentors and individuals who go the extra mile every day to inspire others to learn and make a positive contribution."

Our first category awarded by Nick Hardwick was ‘Outstanding Teacher’. There were five winners in this category, three of whom were able to attend. They all received prize bags with prisoner-made goodies including cakes from the Bad Boys Bakery at HMP Brixton, jam and chutney from HMP Parc and soaps made at HMP Eastwood Park. Our next category was Outstanding Officer and Dr Bill Davies gave out awards to two prize winners. The final awards for both prisoner mentors and outstanding individuals were presented by Guardian journalist Eric Allison.

Outstanding teacher/education staff:

Janet Bowen, Maths teacher, HMP Low Moss: Janet was nominated by a prisoner studying an Open University mathematics course. He describes Janet as “professional, down to earth, funny, kind and passionate”. The prisoner explains that Janet encourages students to enjoy other maths-related subjects like construction, physics, astronomy and accountancy, making her class “one of the busiest in the department”.

Liza-Ann McAllister (Maths and English teacher) and Amanda Leadbitter (Hospitality), HMP Low Newton: Liza-Ann and Amanda were nominated by a woman prisoner, who couldn't read or write when she started her sentence. Amanda was her first tutor and despite confessing to initially being “a nightmare” in class, Amanda gave her the benefit of the doubt and the prisoner said “She never gave up on me and I passed the NVQ level 2 in Hospitality”. Liza-Ann, her maths and English teacher, was also nominated for getting her through her entry level and level 1 literacy and numeracy qualifications. She said that Liza-Ann “believed in me that much that she put me forward to be a mentor. If it wasn’t for Liza I never believed in myself and now I am a mentor in her class and teaching others and I have got confidence”.

Inigo Garrido, Prison Teacher, HMP Shotts: Inigo was nominated by two prisoners: Inigo is the teacher in charge of the ‘Shotts Magazine Publishing Group’ work party which produces ‘The Stir’ magazine and creates publications for external organisations. Both prisoners explain that all learners have different abilities when it comes to computers and journalistic writing “but Inigo encourages us all to try different things and to help each other improve our strengths and weaknesses.” The PLA awards committee were impressed that Inigo “treats the work party as a real business which completely changes the atmosphere compared to anywhere else in the prison; for so many hours a day we don’t feel like we are in prison, but in a real job.” 

Outstanding Officer:

Officer Dodkin, HMP Isle of Wight – Albany:  Officer Dodkin was nominated by a prisoner for her leadership in getting The Shannon Trust reading scheme up and running in HMP Albany. John describes the work Officer Dodkin has done as resulting in the “continuous growth” and “overall success” of the scheme. The PLA awards committee were impressed by her “tremendous encouragement to all of the mentors involved whilst maintaining a truly professional role as a prison officer.”

Officer Clive Vincent, HMP Erlestoke: A prisoner nominated Officer Vincent for offering him great support over a many number of years during his life sentence. In particular he helped the nominee to achieve a 2:1 BSc Hons degree with the Open University in Earth Sciences and Environmental Development. He encouraged him to “move up a pace” and do a Masters degree in climate change and sustainable development, however problems with funding stopped him from continuing his studies. Officer Vincent sought the backing of the Governor and the Education Manager and arranged funding for him to do various teacher training qualifications instead.

Outstanding Prisoner Peer Mentor:

Marcus, Peer Mentor, HMP Swaleside: Marcus was nominated by two prisoners for being an outstanding peer mentor who “goes way beyond his remit”. One prisoners describes how he is currently on a re-integration unit and therefore not currently at liberty to use all the education facilities, however Marcus has “not only supported me through various courses on the wing but he invariably uses his own time to teach us and make sure all our paperwork is up to date. He spends time motivating people who are struggling through a lack of support from other sources”. Another prisoner who nominated Marcus describes him as “friendly and approachable”. Marcus encouraged him to do the level 2 peer mentoring course himself and “spent a lot of time with me, explaining the skills needed and general requirements”. He said “although this was time consuming for Marcus, he remained helpful and positive.. it is because of this I feel I managed to excel so quickly in my [maths and peer mentoring] courses.”

Leon, Peer Mentor, HMYOI Aylesbury: James nominated Leon for the award as he was responsible for persuading him to do education. James was mentored by Leon and he says that “I personally hated education until Leon said I would enjoy and benefit a lot from a course he does.” The PLA awards committee were impressed that Leon “is always willing to help those that are doing education and he won’t stop until they have completed their courses.” James explains that “since I had Leon mentor me, he makes the courses fun and enjoyable.. he makes it as easy as anything, which is saying something due to my learning difficulties.” James is due for release shortly and says Leon has inspired him to continue learning after release; “when I leave prison I am completing NVQs in professional cookery.” He finishes by saying “Without the help from Leon, I wouldn’t have achieved a certificate or qualification and that is why I am voting for Leon.

Craig, HMP Shotts: We had an anonymous nomination for Craig for the award of outstanding prisoner due to an article he wrote for publication in the June edition of Inside Time entitled ‘Accepting me for who I am..The experiences of a gay man in the Scottish prison system’. The prisoner wrote that he wanted to nominate Craig because of his article about homosexuality which he said “caused a lot of talk about equality and diversity.” The prisoner says that “I know it isn’t learning like numbers and spelling, but I have learned a lot from him and surely getting people to talk in depth about a taboo subject is a good thing.” The PLA were impressed that the writer admits “I guess you could say I was one of the people who didn’t understand, but reading what he wrote gave me a chance to walk in his shoes so to speak and realise I needed to be more tolerant and think before I speak.” The prisoner comments that “what he said was brave. He’s teaching something that isn’t taught so I guess you could say he’s promoting and improving learning.” He finishes by saying that “it’s people like Craig that make a difference.”

Outstanding Individual:

Sharon Von Holtz, HMP Grendon, Open University Co-ordinator: Three prisoners nominated Sharon. They said that if they had to sum her up in three words they would be “dedicated, supportive and passionate.” They said Sharon “goes above and beyond in her job role, she is always there to provide help and support and nothing is ever trivial” and say she is a “great listener for us when we may be struggling with personal issues.

Hazel Lynn, HMP Glenochil, Learning Centre Manager: A prisoner nominated Hazel for this award as he says she “believes that people can change.” The PLA awards committee was impressed that Hazel organizes an annual event for peer mentors and mentees to be recognised, an annual Koestler award show and a revue show to showcase talent and work.He adds that at HMP Glenochil, education is “prisoner-led with any idea considered and if possible delivered.” He says that Hazel and her team celebrate the creative arts and this is encouraged “as a gateway to more formal qualifications.”

Jenny Hunter, HMP Shotts, Health Improvement Practitioner: Jenny was nominated by three prisoners for “her efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle for prisoners.” They explain that Jenny has created a group of health peer educators to engage with the prison population. She has also organised many sporting events including a 5k run which raised over 500 pounds for charity. The prisoners write that “it’s events like these that bring prisoners together and to try something different.” Another project she has initiated is a healthy eating recipe booklet based on using ingredients from the canteen and sundries. The prisoners appreciate her efforts as they understand that “Jenny’s job can be difficult at times because it isn’t always easy to engage prisoners to try new things and even more so because of the limitations that exist in prison which makes eating healthy difficult, hence the booklet.” The PLA awards committee was impressed that the prisoners felt Jenny “is effectively teaching us to make better, more informed decisions in our lives, to work in a team and to be more charitable. She is spreading and creating a positive message and working with prisoners to do that.”

Read the PLA's full details of all award winners.