Recently the Chief Inspector of Probation came under investigation when it emerged that his wife is the Deputy Managing Director of Sodexo Justice Services, who have been awarded the largest number of private probation contracts in England and Wales. It got me thinking about how much nepotism I see in prisons too.
The most obvious examples are where you have both a husband and wife working as prison officers. I’ve known this in every single prison I have been in. But that is probably natural and I expect it is the same in hospitals, schools, and other large places of work where the people you spend most time with, and are therefore more likely to form relationships with, are your colleagues. However, I do think it is slightly worse in prisons. I base this upon officers own stories (which I won’t go into) of what they get up to together when on night shifts for example. You’d be both shocked and surprised by what some officers will openly tell you about and whilst it is one thing for two officers to fall in love and get married, it is quite another thing when you discover that one of them has previously been married to or in a relationship with two or even three other officers, with a certain amount of crossing over between every single one!
But besides the spousal relationships seen in prisons is the more nepotistic parent/child relationship. I have rarely seen a father and son combo, but I have seen so many fathers and daughters working in the same prison that I can’t even count them. That I know of, there are at least a couple of these here at Wakefield alone. One where the father and daughter are both officers, and one where the father was a governor and the daughter a teacher. But Frankland was even worse. At Frankland there was a governor whose daughter worked as an administrator and whose new partner worked as the education manager.
But why should any of this be a problem? Well it is a problem on two levels. Firstly, it is a problem for prisoners because (if you ever argue back to an officer whose family member works in the same prison) you are less likely to be dealt with appropriately, and more likely to be handled ‘roughly’. You would hope that everyone would act professionally but, from experience, this is not always the case. Secondly, it is a problem for some staff members too. A number of members of staff (both prison officers and civilian staff – but all females now I think about it) have previously told me that they hate working in a prison because of the amount of unwelcome attention they get. I initially assumed that they meant from prisoners, but when they have elaborated it has almost always turned out that they mean prison officers. According to these members of staff, prison officers are so used to ‘close working relationships’ that they often seem to have a sense of entitlement. Some time ago a teacher who ended up leaving the prison service altogether revealed that she was pestered by one officer in particular every single time he saw her (which was sometimes as often as every day).
So I’m less bothered about the idea that nepotism could result in family being favoured for employment or for an award of contracts, and far more bothered about the more direct effect that nepotism has on both prisoners and staff who just want to get on with their sentences or their jobs.