HMP Stafford: Inside the sex-offenders only jail which housed Rolf Harris

As prisons go, this is a very different place.

JJ at HMP Stafford
JJ at HMP Stafford

Inside, every inmate has been convicted of sex offences.

Walking around the place, most inmates could pass off as normal, decent, everyday members of the public.

Except they are not. Inmates here have been convicted of crimes ranging from moderate to serious offences. Some inmates are convicted paedophiles.

HMP Stafford

Others have been convicted of ‘none contact’ crimes, where offences can include viewing indecent material online.

The cohort of prisoners at HMP Stafford means it is a prison totally unlike most British jails. The risk of violence here is low and drugs and gangs are not rife, said Elizabeth Attwood, head of residence and services at the prison.

Instead, there is a calm atmosphere where staff and inmates go about their business with relative ease and safety.

HMP Stafford

This is because it is a rehabilitative prison, meaning the regime here is different from most prisons.

“We make sure to prepare inmates for ordinary life once they complete their prison sentences,” said Ralph Lubkowksi, the prison’s governor, who has been here for a year.

Governor Ralph Lubkowski at HMP Stafford

“Our prison is about rehabilitating inmates through a range of programmes so they won’t reoffend again.

“Rehabilitation is important. These people will be released back into the public.”

From the outside, a lot of residents in Stafford are perhaps unaware that HMP Stafford, on Gaol Road, is purely for sex-offenders.

A prison officer at HMP Stafford

Five years ago, the prison switched from being a hybrid prison - where it housed both sex-offenders and none sex-offenders where the jail was segregated into two - into a sex-offenders only site.

In that time, the prison has housed Rolf Harris, the popular television presenter whose career ended when he was convicted of twelve counts of indecent assault on four teenage female victims in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2014, Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. But he was released in 2017 after three years.

Rolf Harris served his sentence at HMP Stafford

The prisoner’s governor, Mr Lubkowski, said: “Rolf drew a lot of publicity to the prison all of a sudden. We don’t want to talk about Rolf, that would be looking back. We want to look forward.”

While serving his sentence at the prison, Rolf taught art classes to the inmates.

The prison has a small building located on the outskirts of the premises which houses arts and crafts for inmates, who are past the working age.

HMP Stafford

On the walls are drawings of birds and nature.

“None of Rolf’s artwork is on the walls,” said Mrs Attwood.

The prison is located in the north of Stafford town centre. It is enclosed with towering brick walls where barbed wire is placed on the top. A total of 750 inmates are housed inside.

A corridor inside the prison

It was built in 1783 but some of its facilities are modern. On one wing, inmates enjoy en suite showers.

Regarding the prison's demographics, most of the inmates inside are white British, noted governor Mr Lubkowski.

And around 40 per cent of the population is aged over 50.

“But there is some emerging stuff that we are seeing,” said Mr Lubkowski.

“We know in some areas, there are issues with gangs and that is criminality.

“But we can’t say if that is linked to a certain community or culture.

The charity shop at HMP Stafford

“The majority of the population is white British.

“We have less inmates here from BME backgrounds than the general population.”

All inmates at HMP Stafford are ‘Category C’ prisoners, which is the second lowest on the prisoner scale for security. Most prisoners here are serving between two and four year sentences.

At Stafford, inmates have to come from other prisons first, such as those where there is segregated populations for prisoners convicted of sexual offences.

“They don’t come straight from court,” said Mrs Attwood.

Among the inmates is 47-year-old man who only identifies himself as ‘JJ’.

JJ at HMP Stafford

He used to be a Category A prisoner, the highest classification, but is now Category C.

He has progressed through the prison’s Rehabilitative Culture programme - which gets prisoners to work and on education courses - and is also helping other inmates to rehabilitate.

JJ has been in prison for nine years.

“I am in prison because I committed a sexual offence but that is all I am prepared to say,” said JJ.

“I deserve to be in prison. It took me about four years to really comprehend and understand (what I had done).”

JJ believes every inmate convicted of sexual offences is responsible for their actions, and that it is not correct to say some can’t help it.

“I think if people are making an excuse for their behaviour, I wouldn’t give them the time of day,” he said.

An inmate inside a garden at the prison's greenhouse

JJ has come to accept the stigma and prejudice that surrounds him.

“It is understandable that people are angry (with what I have done),” he said.

He believes that managing lifestyle choices keeps offenders on the straight and narrow.

JJ has five personality disorders and part of his rehabilitation has been to address his mental health.

He has already turned down his parole in order to continue working on himself. He believes he could be out in 18 months.

The garden at HMP Stafford

But when he does get out, does JJ believe he will reoffend again?

“No,” he said. “I am very clear, I have done it once. That is enough.

“It is about managing issues around lifestyles.”

Back at the governor’s office, Mr Lubkowski says that 90 per cent of convicted sex offenders do not reoffend when they return to everyday life.

That he attributes down to the work done behind the scenes and the prison’s Rehabilitative Culture programme.

The programme aims to give inmates a sense of purpose and responsibility. They take part in work everyday and education courses. One popular course is learning how to build railway sleeper tracks.

There is also a charity shop on site, run in partnership with Katharine House Hospice, alongside a garden and greenhouse.

HMP Stafford

But Mr Lubkowski said social isolation, which sex-offenders can face due to the stigma and prejudice of their crimes, can make them reoffend.

“Hopelessness is a dangerous place for anyone to be in,” he said.

The prison was inspected by the government watchdog - the HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons - where it received overall good scores.

The prison staff is now awaiting for a new inspection anytime.

With all the work going on behind the scenes to rehabilitate sex offenders, staff hope their work will be recognised in the upcoming inspection.

“My job is to protect people and make sure there are no more victims,” said Mr Lubkowski.

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