27 years behind bars

(the right side)

An interview with Peter Francis, governor of HMP Liverpool

Peter Francis is the newly appointed governor of HMP Liverpool.

As a 23 year old, married with a new baby and with an offer from both the Prison Service and Fire Service on the table, he chose the Prison officer job as, in his words: “The Prison Service paid more, so I joined the Prison Service”.

While this may have seemed like a flippant decision at the time, 27 years later he is at the highest rank of his profession after working hard and making his way up the hierarchy.

HMP Liverpool

Peter joined the service as a basic grade officer in 1987, after which he says he: “just progressed; did the exams I needed to do, passed the things I needed to pass and just kept climbing up through the ranks”.

He re-joined Liverpool prison having worked there previously as an officer, returning years later as governor — a first for the prison.

All glory aside, Peter explains that the role of prison governor is a great responsibility: “I’m on call 24 hours a day, every day.

“A typical day for me is: get into work about 7.30 in the morning, see what’s happened overnight, get reports from my duty governors and orderly officers and then deal with everything in the prison.

“Two or three days a week I’ll do adjudications on prisoners, which is an internal discipline system, so if prisoners break the rules or misbehave I act as judge really; listen to the evidence, decide whether or not the prisoner is guilty, what they've been charged with and then give them a suitable punishment or dismiss it if there’s enough evidence.”.

As the figurehead, Peter is also responsible for the prison’s £28 million budget as well as for every aspect of the prison’s management.

He says: “In the Prison Service you have to be a leader because you’re dealing with everything from the most basic thing to a full scale riot — you have to deal with everything”.

Indeed, Peter is one of only two governors in the UK who lead riot teams, joining officers in riot gear to restore peace.

Peter, who lives with his family near Preston, says: “Two Sundays ago, there was a disturbance at Haverigg Prison. My phone goes at 3 o’clock: ‘Will you go to Haverigg, there’s a disturbance’.

Peter’s day can go from writing to riot gear

“So I literally can go from sitting down managing the budget for the prison, to putting on riot gear and going to another prison to restore order. It’s not just about sitting behind a desk”.

Asked on his view of the sometimes overused media view that prison is like a holiday camp, Peter explains that for 12 hours a day, prisoners are in their cells and the rest of the time is spent either performing work duties or attending education programmes:

A typical day for inmates

“At 7.45am, the prisoners are up. They clean their cells and then they’re allowed to go outside for a little exercise for a few minutes.

“From 8.30am to 11.45am the prisoners go to education workshops before taking lunch for an hour and then returning to workshops until 4.45pm where they return to their cells for dinner.

“All prisoners are locked up by 7.30pm until unlock the following morning”.

Rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners plays a huge part of their time at HMP Liverpool, where training in job skills to allow prisoners to lead a normal life on their release includes painting and decorating, kitchen-fitting, plastering and plumbing.

John Timpson “We are making a difference to the lives of ex-offenders”

Timpson, who is the largest employer of ex-offenders in the country, has also built a workshop in the prison, where prisoners are trained by Timpson staff in all aspects of the business (including, ironically, key-cutting) and are offered a guaranteed interview with the company upon release.

The prisoners have televisions in their cells, but they are not the plasma screens with the top movie package that some may be lead to believe: “Never mind what you’ve heard. They’ve never had Sky TV, they’ve never had the football on” Peter says, adding that TVs were introduced to ease the need for staff in the evening, enabling them to confine prisoners to their cells earlier.

Praising the work of his staff, Peter says that prison officers don’t get enough credit for what they do: “There’s 1,800 of the most violent criminals in Liverpool prison and there’s only about 120 staff.

“What keeps the lid on? Why isn’t the place on fire from end to end? Because of the job the officers do”.

What’s next for Peter? “Retirement”, he says smiling, adding he plans to “walk my dog, watch Everton and become a pain to my children” with the possibility of becoming a consultant for the prison service.

With almost 40 years of experience under his belt, it would certainly be a shame to keep it all under lock and key.

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