Junior jail club helps raise awareness for kids

Pc Tracey Gunn with a young visitor to HMP Edinburgh
Pc Tracey Gunn with a young visitor to HMP Edinburgh
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children visiting relatives in the Capital’s prison are being treated to a series of fun days to help make them feel more comfortable.

Police Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service have teamed up with the Salvation Army in a bid to make HMP Edinburgh a “welcoming environment”.

Now the project – which aims to build up trust and rapport between children and police staff through activities including arts, crafts and fancy dress – has been shortlisted for an award from the Butler Trust, which recognises good practice in UK prisons.

Young visitors to Saughton are also offered the chance to learn about police cars and meet staff from other emergency services.

Resident prison dogs Buck and Ollie have proved to be a particular hit with the children during visits.

An extensive educational programme has been created for the young visitors, drawing upon the Curriculum for Excellence used in schools across Scotland. It is designed to build on the work police officers already carry out in schools, and also aims to improve relationships with parents.

Prison liaison officer Pc Tracey Gunn said: “This collaborative approach was designed to help children feel comfortable when visiting HMP Edinburgh and to build strong relationships between them and police staff.

“We want to ensure that they don’t just see us as the people who’ve taken their relative away, but as people who will act in their best interests and who they would feel comfortable approaching if they needed to.”

Gerry Michie, deputy governor at HMP Edinburgh, said prison staff were “delighted” to support the initiative.

“Organised events, such as ‘fun days’, encourage raising awareness of the police in relation to the public and breaks down barriers where the focus is firmly on children and families,” he said.

“During these events children have had the opportunity to meet the prison dogs, where our handlers and dogs have been available to assist building positive relationship where children can interact with our dog in an non-working role. My staff and I are fully committed to supporting future ‘meet the police’ events.”

The Salvation Army leads the daily running of the Visitors Centre at HMP Edinburgh, where staff try to encourage a positive relationship between those who are visiting Saughton and police officers.

It is hoped the children’s events have helped to change attitudes towards the police and other emergency services.

The charity’s Edinburgh Prison Visitors Centre co-ordinator, Kerry Watson, said: “We set out to break down the barriers and that has worked really well, we are confident that the children and their families have experienced a really positive fun day with community police and our friends in the fire service.

“This important educational initiative, identified through our parenting project at the centre, has gone a long way to reverse some of the negative comments we heard about the emergency services. Our aim will be to continue to invest in this work and have similar days every six weeks.” The Butler Trust Awards and Commendations are presented by the organisation’s patron, the Princess Royal, at an annual ceremony held in either Buckingham Palace or St James’s Palace.

The awards, which launched in 1985, were the first for people working in the prison and 
justice sector.

More than 300 schemes and individuals are usually nominated for the awards across the UK, and judges will select a shortlist of around 40 before the judging panel chooses the final winners.

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com