Health: Pioneering ‘Bubble’ for Leeds prison inmates to offer mindfulness and healthcare

The 'Bubble' at HMP Leeds.

The 'Bubble' at HMP Leeds.

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‘No drugs, no violence – two red lines, don’t cross them’.

That was the straight-talking warning screwed to the wall of the barbed wire-trimmed prison yard at HMP Leeds, in Armley, on my recent visit.

Given the macho, violent reputation of the prison environment it is an obvious message, but one those on the inside of prison healthcare know they need to tackle.

Prisoners are often complex individuals with pressing health needs – around 70 per cent of prisoners have mental health issues and a third have addictions to drink or drugs.

It is often these issues that drive people to crime, so failing to deal with them on the inside can impact on their behaviour on release. With that in mind, an innovative space called ‘seedS’ has been placed in the Victorian atrium at the heart of HMP Leeds – an echoing stone, brick and wrought iron prison that dates back to 1847.

Karl Lenton, creative director at SAFE Innovations who designed seedS, said: “It became apparent that there needs to be another system of getting more people to healthcare than is the norm.

“It’s mobile, it can go anywhere the need is greatest and is a space that breaks from institutional prison design.”

He added: “If it can give prisoners purpose, find out their skills, dreams and ambitions, and we can take the idea out into the community, it can tackle reoffending rates.”

The futuristic fibreglass egg, nicknamed ‘the Bubble’ by inmates, is the first of its kind and is being trialled in Leeds.

A handful of people can fit inside the structure which will be used by HMP Leeds to make it easier for inmates to access health care such as smoking cessation, group therapy, confidential assessments and mindfulness sessions. The facility has changeable lighting, can play audio and is intended to be a safe, private space for staff and inmates in what is a busy, stressful environment.

Without seedS, prisoners seeking healthcare need to be escorted by two prison officers to the prison’s medical wing, often having health talks on wings in front of other inmates.

Simon Walters, deputy governor of HMP Leeds, said: “There are barriers because it’s so busy. We can hold 1,219 people who are very complex people with differing needs.

“Some aren’t coping with their sentence and are at risk of self harm or harming others, there are so many people in HMP Leeds and finding time for everybody is difficult.”

Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, which funds prison healthcare, has bought the first seedS, which SAFE say will pay for itself in around three-quarters of a year.

Based on reducing need for officers at clinical times, improving attendance rates, clinic times and patients seen, SAFE says each unit could save a prison £84,000 a year.

GROUP WORK CHANGING PRISON CARE

The new seedS facility is on trial at HMP Leeds in the hope it can be rolled out further.

It ensures privacy and lets healthcare workers exit easily during hostile situations, while it meets NHS infection control standards and can move to meet the demands of patients. The seedS prototype was developed by SAFE, Stage One Creative Services, The CASS School of Art, Architecture and Design, the University of Leeds and Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust. Visit leedscommunityhealthcare.nhs.uk.

Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

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