Social work diary: ‘I explain he will sign a form, the handcuffs will be removed, and the officers will leave’

A social worker writes about their experience of working within a prison setting and reflects on their role in preparing inmates for release

The 2019 report showed little had changed since a similarly damning report was released in 2015.


I attend a multi-disciplinary team meeting this morning in one of the several prisons within my local authority. There is one prison social worker – me – and I cover all of them.

Monthly meetings are held in each prison, involving a mixture of services. Unfortunately, the clinical matron cannot attend today as there has been an incident, so the meeting goes ahead; me, a social carer and the prison officer for disability. We exchange information on the progress of people who are known to me, and I receive two new referrals – a good start to the week.

In the afternoon I visit a prisoner who is in the local hospital. He is chained to an officer, which is protocol, but nonetheless feels demeaning. On the bright side, he’ll get a single room.

The man has had a brain injury and there are mental capacity issues around all major decisions. He tells me that he will be released in 10 days and is able to tell me the day and the date of his release.

I am aware that he may not be well enough to go home; there need to be capacity assessments completed to check his ability to live alone, and the house is not inhabitable at present. Clearly this is going to be a problem.

He is also awaiting neurological rehabilitation, which he desperately needs, but there are no beds.

Back at the office I check with the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards team regarding what needs to happen when he is released. They tell me an emergency authorisation is required, so I inform the hospital discharge co-ordinator of the need to make an emergency referral for a DoLS straight away.

She seems sceptical of what I am telling her, but I have done all I can for now.


I go into another prison to complete a Care Act assessment. I tell the prisoner: “I have no idea why you’re here and I don’t need to know, but if I ask question that is related to your offence which is undiplomatic, I apologise”.

I always say this because, when I was fresh into the role, I once asked a man whether he was in a relationship. “That’s why I’m here, Miss, I murdered my wife,” he replied.

Fortunately, he had a sense of humour and laughed afterwards. I laugh also, although mine was somewhat horrified.

The man is happy to participate in an assessment and gives me a graphic description of his leg ulcers – most graphic. I take handwritten notes, which I will transcribe onto the computer later – no devices in custodial settings, of course.

I am used to the slower pace of work now that I am in my fifth year of working in prisons.

While leaving the wing I spot two more men who I don’t recognise. They both appear to have disabilities. I speak to them and explain my role and take two self-referrals. I call these “stop me and buy one”, and it confirms my belief that they are not made for all the people who may need an assessment, by far, especially the ones with a “hidden” disability.


I make a joint emergency visit with the prison occupational therapist to see an elderly man, who was remanded in custody yesterday evening straight from court.

He has a tremor, which looks like Parkinson’s disease, and he is at very high risk of falls; he is thin and unkempt. The tremor also prevents him from feeding himself.

We focus on solving the immediate problems and the OT goes off to order some equipment. I ring the man’s home local authority to do some fact finding, and one of our brilliant social care workers offers to feed the man his breakfast. He agrees.

After a huge breakfast, he accepts a shower and has his hair washed. I am informed that he has a benign essential tremor, which explains why he is not prescribed any Parkinson’s medication.

He already looks like a different man following his bath and there’s every chance he will leave prison in a better condition than when he came in. This is good and worrying at the same time.


I usually work from home for all or part of the day, catching up on inputting my assessments, making phone calls, and answering emails.

Today, I have an enquiry from a commissioner in another local authority, wanting to know what we do about night-time support in prison in our area. This generates a long series of emails covering a wide range of related matters.

When it finishes, I file a copy in my electronic CPD file as evidence of my knowledge.

It is common that other local authorities ask about our practice and experience. With everything we do throughout our prisons, I consider it right that we act as a resource and am proud to be able to do so.

In the afternoon I participate in a telephone interview as I have volunteered to take part in some research on the subject of professional identity. I am asked how I feel about negative articles about social workers in the media.


My hospitalised patient’s mother rings me, who I have permission to speak with, tells me that ‘they’, the hospital staff, are having a big meeting today. I am sorry but not surprised that I was not informed or invited.

She is aware that her son is planning to leave the hospital when he is released from his sentence and is understandably worried about his safety. I explain to her about Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards and she seems reassured.

I later receive a phone call from the hospital discharge coordinator – do I think that the prisoner will be aware that he is being released?

I explain that he will have to sign a form, the handcuffs and chain will be removed, and the prison officers will leave, so I suspect he will realise.

She confirms that an emergency authorisation for a DoLS has been made for when he is released, and I feel very relieved – I wasn’t aware how worried I felt about this. I wish there could be such good news before every weekend.

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