As part of our ongoing communication and engagement we will continue our series featuring articles that focus on a ‘day in the life’ of people working in a variety of services and organisations across Ayrshire, whose dedication and efforts are key to reducing reoffending and improving outcomes for people caught up in the Justice system, their families, victims, and the community as a whole.
We would like to thank Craig for sharing his story with us.
Craig is the Director of HMP Kilmarnock, operated by Serco Justice and Immigration and has been in post since January 2020. As a community justice partner, Craig represents HMP Kilmarnock on the Community Justice Ayrshire Partnership Board.
Craig started out as a Prisoner Officer in 1985 with Scottish Prison Service at HMP Shotts. Since then, he has managed prisons and immigration centres all around the globe.
Having joined the SPS in 1985 from British Steel, where Craig worked as a lad in the hot metal furnace section. He grew up beside a number of children of SPS staff, which initiated his interest in working in prisons.
Craig was invited to join the private sector in 2001 by the then Premier Prisons Limited, a joint venture company of Serco and Wackenhut. They had secured custodial contracts under the new PFI initiative and were looking for established managerial grades from the public sector. Craig was approached by their Managing Director and invited to transfer to that joint venture as Deputy Director.
Craig quickly moved to being a Custodial Director, in 2001 taking charge of a facility in west London. He then seconded to Australia for two years as Operations Director, managing some 27 facilities across all states. He returned to the UK in 2011 to take up a large government contract as part of the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
Craig has been Director of 7 custodial facilities throughout the UK, including HMP Kilmarnock, HMP Dovegate, and HMP Thameside, which was London’s busiest prison, being four years in charge there.
A typical day
Primarily, I am responsible for the strategic and commercial direction of the prison. My Deputy Director leads on the day-to-day operations.
Every day, we start with a media review, followed by the Senior Management Team reviewing the previous 24 hours of operations within the prisons, as well as looking at the planned day’s events.
Normally, subject to any meetings, I will look to tour the prison, which is really important for me as Director, getting out and about, speaking with staff and prisoners, and getting a feel for the overall “temperature” of the prison. This leadership style is key to running a decent, safe, and secure prison.
“I am so proud of all my staff at HMP Kilmarnock. They have been dynamic and flexible in managing prisoners.”
The difficulties affecting my work
Covid-19 has been an extremely difficult time for everyone in prisons including HMP Kilmarnock. The outbreaks have been managed really well by my staff, with the added difficulty of trying to reduce the risk of the spread of infection in such confined spaces. Prisoners had to be isolated from their friends and families and that must have been very hard to experience that separation, when it is well researched that good family contact plays a vital role in the rehabilitation of a prisoner.
That said, my team and I introduced some significant innovation – where cells were kitted out with phones – a first in Scotland. This meant that instead of waiting to be released from their isolation to use a wing phone, prisoners could contact their loved ones at any time, and I am certain that has gone a long way to reducing the impact of Covid-19 on prisoners’ mental health.
In conjunction with our partners, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, Public Health Scotland, and the Scottish Prison Service, we will see the slow return to pre-Covid operations, however, this has been almost two years and is still work in progress due to the prevalence of Covid-19 in the community.
I am so proud of all my staff at HMP Kilmarnock. They have been dynamic and flexible in managing prisoners.
Separately, illicit substances is a major problem in society and also in prisons. We work very closely with Police Scotland to ensure those in our care are kept safe and those attempting to cause harm by introducing such drugs are caught by the police and charged.
Moments I will remember
There are so many over my 37-year custodial career. In the early years, I was a national member of officers who would be called in to deal with prison troubles. Then of course my time of secondment to Australia with Serco, where I managed a cluster of three Immigration Removal Centres on Christmas Island, looking after 3,000 people with only 72 staff. It was exhausting and rewarding, and I am immensely proud of those 72 staff, including my wife who cared for and nursed 272 children under the age of 5.
One thing I wish I had known
My career has been a really hard, but good, one. And it is always best to be flexible and open to new opportunities.
“It is important to me to support the staff group as they carry out their duties, and to be available for them to chat to me on any subject.”
What I love about my job
Easy – my staff. Always have, always will.
They are professional, caring, empathic, and just great to work beside. The most recent Formal Inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons in Scotland said it all and more.
If there was an extra hour of the day
I would get out and about into the prison even more than I already do. It is important to me to support the staff group as they carry out their duties, and to be available for them to chat to me on any subject.
“The safety, security, and decency of HMP Kilmarnock are my priorities, and change is key to that.”
If I could change anything
Change is good!
I am proud that Serco puts so much investment into innovation and Research & Development. We are always thinking of new ways to get better results, and that will never cease.
The safety, security, and decency of HMP Kilmarnock are my priorities, and change is key to that.
If I had a magic wand and endless funding I would
I would rid prisons of drugs. My role is to keep prisoners safe, and whilst they dabble in drugs that becomes slightly more difficult. I see so many prisoners affected by drugs, and their families, and whilst I do not have a magic wand and endless funding, I do everything in my power, as does my team, to have the most robust security and searching process in place.
The not so nice parts of my job
Unfortunately, there are occasions where prisoners take their own life, and my heart goes out to the staff here who have to deal with those events, as well of course the prisoner’s family and friends, who always have so many questions. Quite rightly so. I am however very content with all the processes we have in place whilst we care for our prisoners to ensure that they come to no harm.
Where I see myself in five years
We have recently received notification that the Scottish Prison Service will take over the operation of HMP Kilmarnock at the end of our current contract in March 2024. All the work that will go into that is already underway and is not insignificant. As time progresses towards contract conclusion, then I will know where I will be in five years. Perhaps a beach in Bermuda!
“Working for the Scottish Prison Service in my earlier days, and then these last 22 years with Serco, have been wonderful.”
Would I choose this path again
Absolutely. Working for the Scottish Prison Service in my earlier days, and then these last 22 years with Serco, have been wonderful. Yes, it is a difficult job, but when I go home to my lovely wife and family at the end of each day, I can rest assured that I have done everything I possibly can, as have my staff, to treat prisoners with care, respect, and dignity, and ultimately keeping them safe.
What would I saw to someone considering this career path
I would say APPLY HERE!
We continue to recruit Prisoner Custody Officers as we proceed to the end of the contract when all staff will have TUPE rights to transfer their role to the Scottish Prison Service. It is an incredibly rewarding job, which everyone can be proud of, and one which I would highly recommend.