Criminology students at the University of Suffolk have been studying how the coronavirus pandemic has affected prisons, with many prisoners now spending longer in their cells.
This has resulted in students working with Criminology Lecturer, Laura Polley, to create ‘distraction packs’.
Laura said, “As an ex-prison officer myself I recognised the strain my former colleagues were under. When discussing this with students, I framed it as 'picture being on lockdown in your bathroom, replace the bath with a bed, eating, sleeping and spending 23 hours a day in there. Then add another fully grown person in there. My students understandably empathised with prisoners and I gave them some ideas for how we could help to alleviate some of the strain on prisons using paper-based activities. The term 'distraction pack' is used widely in prisons already, however these tend to be puzzle books and stress balls etc. In terms of the reception, it has been fantastic. We have now provided 25 prisons nationally with these resources.”
Laura added “From an academic perspective in-cell activity packs are crucial during lockdown to ensure the wellbeing of prisoners is maintained. Solitary confinement is really anxiety-inducing so anything that helps alleviate that is useful and can take the pressure off prison officers. At the moment visits have been cancelled and workshops have been closed so prison officers are their only source of support.”
Prisons including HMP Brixton, HMP Stafford, HMP Isle of Wight, HMP Nottingham and HMP Hull have all benefitted from the packs.
Student Chloe Potkins is one of those involved and said, “After learning so much about prisons and prisoners it was chance to actually do something. We have included Sudoku puzzles and word searches in the packs. It was really lovely when Laura sent us an update telling us about the reaction from the prisons. It felt like a full circle moment from studying penology and then potentially supporting prisoners’ mental health while in lockdown.”
Fellow student, Kayleigh Haney, added “I was very happy to be involved with the distraction packs. I am pleased that so many prisons have wanted them and how far the packs have spread, and I hope it has made a difference to them.”
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