The new governor of Portsmouth’s Kingston Prison tells Chris Owen how he want to make it part of city life
It’s a daunting place. It’s meant to be. But Ian Young is on a mission to integrate Kingston Prison into Portsmouth’s community.
The Victorian jail, built by French prisoners of war, dominates the corner of Milton Road and St Mary’s Road.
Thousands drive past the gothic-style prison every day, but how many of you give it a second thought? It’s a part of city life which most people probably don’t think about, or even want to.
Ian Young wants to change that perception. He knows it will be difficult, but he sees no reason why HMP Kingston cannot and should not play a greater role in the city.
He’s the newish governor at the prison. He took up the role three months ago, but is no stranger to Portsmouth. He’s been here before, as deputy governor from 2002 for four-and-a-half years. The last seven months were spent as acting governor.
Ian came back after running the Haslar Immigration Removal Centre at Gosport and is fizzing with plans to take Kingston to the people...and bring some of them behind its forbidding walls.
‘I don’t want us to be the wall or the gate that people drive past and say ‘‘that’s Kingston prison. I don’t understand what goes on in there’’. I want us to be of some use to the city,’ he says.
Behind those walls are 200 men. They are all serving life sentences. Some have killed. Others are rapists, arsonists or have committed serial sex crimes. Their ages range from 21 to 85.
But Ian, a wiry and energetic 53-year-old with a lifetime’s experience in the prison service, wants some of those inmates to help fight crime.
‘Can you think of anybody better than one of our prisoners to bring it home to someone what the ramifications of committing serious crime can be? I can’t.’
So, in conjunction with the Wessex Youth Offending Trust and a national organisation called Catch 22, he is allowing groups of young people to be brought into the prison. Some are considered by the police and other agencies to be on the verge of offending. Others have already served their first spell behind bars.
He says: ‘It’s all part of our efforts to keep people out of places like this. A number of youngsters have visited Kingston and we’ve put together a programme for them.
‘At the beginning they talk to the staff, then they engage, under supervision, with the prisoners.
‘I suppose if I take myself back to when I was a youngster I would have thought ‘‘you can do anything you like to me and I’ll get used to it, I’ll get over it’’.
‘That’s probably the case with most people of that age and may be, having spent their first four or six months in a young offenders’ institute, they think they can do their time standing on their head. They can’t.
‘We bring them in here and they realise how they might end up, that it’s not a game, and what their crime might do to not only themselves or their family but also to their community.’
Ian was born in the Isle of Wight and trained as a carpenter and joiner. He was a keen sportsman and, while playing golf one day, he learned that two of his fellow players taught physical education at Camp Hill prison.
He then spent 14 years putting prisoners through their paces as a PE instructor at a variety of sports and outdoor activities at jails all over the country before he eventually returned to Camp Hill as governor. He later became acting governor of all three island prisons – Parkhurst, Albany and Camp Hill – when they merged to form HMP Isle of Wight.
He says: ‘One of the best things about returning to Kingston is that I’m only 10 minutes away from my seat in the Fratton End.’
He has followed Pompey all his life (his first game was against Bristol City in 1968) and has been a season ticket holder since he returned to the island in 2001. ‘Since then I’ve only missed two home games.’
Ian is keen to get his prisoners involved in restorative justice programmes in which the victims of the crime come face-to-face with the perpetrator.
He adds: ‘You can’t under-estimate the importance of victim support or victim awareness. I’m a great believer in it, but you have to remember that a lot of the prisoners in here...their direct victims are no longer with us. But there are an awful lot of secondary victims.’
Coming to terms with your crime and understanding its impact is part of the process that could, eventually, lead to the release of Kingston inmates. It’s a category C jail and houses prisoners classified as C grade and some Ds – those being considered for release via an open prison.
They can only be released if the parole board is convinced they are no longer a danger and can only be considered by the board if they have served the minimum tariff set by the judge on conviction – 10, 12 14 years or more.
‘They are lifers and even if they are released from an open prison they are on life licence and that means what it says on the tin. If they re-offend while out on licence they go back to prison and the whole process starts for them again.
‘But to get past a parole board, they have to show contrition,’ says Ian. ‘Not just superficially. They really, properly, have to get to grips with what they’ve done and this can take a long time, sometimes many, many years, to get through.’
Those that do have to come to terms with family life again. If they are lucky.
Ian is working with the charity Spurgeons which sets up visitors’ centres at prison, allowing inmates to play with their children in supervised creches during visiting hours.
‘Some family units do survive a life sentence, many don’t. But we are trying to prepare prisoners for the day they might be transferred to an open prison where, instead of the families coming in to visit, they go out to spend time with them.
‘It can be very hard for someone who has not acted as a father for a number of years. They need assistance about how to engage with their own children and how to be a proper father.
‘There are older people who might have fulfilled their role as a father in the past but are now required to be a grandad.
‘Family links to a prisoner are hugely important and those links when they are discharged are critical. If you haven’t got a support network around you, then the chances of surviving in the outside world are going to be significantly reduced.’
Part of coming to terms with your crime also involves convincing your parole board that you can now manage the risk that put you behind bars in the first place. That might be alcohol, drugs, systematic abuse or anger management.
Ian says: ‘I’ve tried to give our prisoner council an injection of life since I arrived. The prisoners elect their representatives and we sit down and discuss ways in which we can improve services and quality of life.
‘I’m adamant that despite somebody being incarcerated they still live and work in a community, still have responsibilities and need to step up to the plate and take those responsibilities seriously.
‘One day they will walk the streets again and if, say, they have a problem with a service at a hospital, you need to know they’re going to deal with that problem properly and not lose it and go shouting and screaming at the counter.’
Ian has been having meetings with senior police officers in Portsmouth about ways in which the prison and its inmates can help prevent crime in the city.
‘They’re very keen for us to help out with the One Punch Can Kill initiative and we also want to try to help with some of the domestic violence issues here. Let’s face it, we have plenty of experience here to pass on.
‘If we can do anything to stop somebody ending up in prison and, in the most severe cases, taking somebody else’s life and wrecking a whole host of people’s lives, then we’ve done something for the community in Portsmouth.’