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20 February 2020: Responsibilities of a prison governorTwo men shaking hands in front of a Rotary banner

Our President started today’s meeting by presenting a Club name badge to another representative of our corporate member. (See the photograph.)

The speaker had worked in the Prison Service for many years, including a period as governor of our local prison. He told us about some of the difficult problems prison governors have to deal with, including drugs, fights, suicides and even murders. He pointed out that prison officers are the only members of the population who spend all their working hours surrounded by criminals.

Lindsay mentioned that there are approximately 80,000 prisoners in English prisons and that the average cost to keep someone in prison for a year is £51,000. This means the total cost is over £4 Billion per year. We imprison a higher proportion of our population than any other country in Western Europe.

He read us part of a short story he had written for a creative writing competition, in which he described an incident in which a female prison officer tried desperately to save the life of an eighteen-year old prisoner who had tried to take his own life. She kept shouting at him to “take a breath” while she and a nurse tried to start him breathing again. Two paramedics quickly arrived to take over from them but all their efforts were in vain. Our speaker said this was based on a real incident and that he had to deal with it as governor while at the same time ensuring that scheduled visits to prisoners by family members still took place and the prisoners continued to be fed.

He explained that items which were banned in prisons but which could be bought relatively cheaply in our city commanded high prices among the prisoners. A vast profit could be made by buying a pay-as-you go phone in one of the local shops and selling it in prison, assuming you could smuggle it in. There was a smaller mark-up on drugs but nevertheless profits could still be made by buying drugs from a dealer on the streets and then selling them inside.

He asked us to think of ways we might get drugs into a prison. The suggestions included using drones, throwing the drugs over the wall and using relatives and suppliers to smuggle them in. Fortunately there are effective counter-measures against each.

In response to a question asking whether we could learn anything from the way prisoners are treated in other countries, our speaker said that there are regular reciprocal visits between the English and Norwegian prison services. (The English prison system is different from those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.)