Today, we hear from Sevastiani Stampouli, Catch22 Senior Case Manager on her role in the Offender Management Unit (OMU) at HMP Thameside. Sevi, from Greece, has been working at Catch22 for almost a year and a half. She began her career in the Resettlement team, before moving to the OMU in October 2020. She is one of two senior case managers in the team.
Can you tell us a bit about your day-to-day role?
My day-to-day role is split between prisoner contact and office tasks. As case managers, we each have our own caseload of sentenced prisoners, who we support throughout their stay in HMP Thameside.
The first half of my role involves having one to one sessions with the prisoners, completing offending behaviour work with them and signposting them to the right department when they need help. The second half involves completing assessments and reports, attending meetings and keeping in touch with all the relevant agencies that are involved with each offender.
For example, when a prisoner first comes into the prison, we complete a Basic Custody Screening, which is a basic assessment to identify their needs. Some sentenced prisoners also need to complete a sentence plan, which includes various objectives they will need to work on while in custody.
Another task we do is attend Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) meetings for high-risk cases, in which we exchange information with various other professionals in order to ensure the offender’s risk is managed adequately. We also attend parole hearings, which determine whether a prisoner should be released from custody. We give information on the prisoner’s behaviour while in custody and our assessment of whether they can be safely managed in the community, and that informs the parole board’s decision.
Finally, as a senior case manager I allocate prisoners to case managers and attend certain meetings on behalf of the team. These are just some examples of the work we do. It is a very interesting role and it entails lots of different tasks, so it never gets boring!
Why is the relationship between a case manager and a prisoner important?
Great question! I feel that the case manager is one of the most important people in a prisoner’s sentence.
For me, there are two main reasons why the relationship between a case manager and a prisoner is so important. Firstly, we are there to support them, help them make the most of their sentence and encourage them to achieve their full potential. Many prisoners see us as their main point of contact in the prison, which means they come to us with various questions and issues. Our role involves helping others, therefore without having a good working relationship with the people on our caseload it’s impossible for us to help them.
The second reason is kind of opposite but equally important. As case managers, it is our duty to ensure that the prisoners’ risk is managed effectively and that the public is protected. The more we know about our prisoners, the easier it is to identify their risk factors, help them address them and ultimately protect the public and ensure that the prisoners do not re-offend.
By having an open and honest relationship with the prisoners, not only do we protect the public, but we also support them to improve their lives.
How did the pandemic impact this relationship and the way you work?
I stated working for Catch22 in February 2020, so I had about a month and a half experience before the lockdown was announced! So, I have more experience working in the pandemic than in ‘normal’ circumstances.
It has definitely been a challenge, working in a prison is restricted as it is, but everything was much more extreme during the pandemic. We were not allowed direct contact with the prisoners at all. Thankfully, in HMP Thameside prisoners have in-cell phones, which means we were able to complete our work over the phone.
I do believe the pandemic impacted our relationship with the prisoners, as everything is much more impersonal when taking place over the phone. Face to face contact makes it easier to build a good rapport and to get to know the service user better. It also makes it easier for them to trust us and open up to us. Having said that, I’d like to give credit to both the Resettlement and OMU teams, as I believe that both teams persevered and gave really good work outcomes despite the circumstances!
It was a challenge, but I do believe we couldn’t have done any better. Fortunately the regime is opening up slowly, so there are more opportunities for face-to-face work from now on.
Do case managers keep in touch with prison leavers after release?
No, unfortunately we do not. Our contact stops when the prisoners are released.
Throughout the pandemic, most of us have increased our use of technology platforms to live our day-to-day lives. Has the use of technology changed in prisons?
Obviously the use of technology in a prison is significantly more limited than in other workplaces. However, as I mentioned before, we are lucky to have in-cell phones in HMP Thameside, which has been a massive help throughout the pandemic! Virtually all prisoner contact was made through the phone which, whilst not ideal, allowed us to complete important tasks day to day without compromising the team’s targets and performance.
Moreover, I think we were much more heavily reliant on the systems used in the prison such as OASys – Offender Assessment System – an online database which provides information about the prisoners without necessarily having to get that information directly from them. I think that this was very helpful for report writing, as we were able to access a significant amount of information at the touch of a button.
Finally, all the meetings that we would usually attend had to take place remotely, either via Teams or via telephone, which was definitely a big change. That includes MAPPA meetings and parole hearings.
Has the team’s relationship with other prison staff changed during the pandemic?
I feel like each team in the prison became more ‘isolated’ during the pandemic, as we physically could not have the same contact we had prior to the pandemic. As with the prisoners, most contact between teams was via telephone or email, which definitely takes away from the experiencing of collaborating towards a common goal.
However, I do believe that communication between the teams remained as good as possible, given the circumstances. I think that, even though the methods of communication had to change, the relationship between staff did not, if anything I believe that we all respect each other more now for persevering and making it through a very difficult year.
What are your favourite aspects of your work as a Catch22 Case Manager?
There’s a few things I really enjoy about being a Catch22 case manager. I definitely enjoy the challenging nature of our work, no day is the same and the variety of the tasks we have to complete definitely keeps us on our toes. I love the fact that we support and help others, which was one of the main reasons I got into this line of work in the first place. I like supporting people through difficult times and helping them reach their full potential.
I would say that my most favourite thing, though, is my team and my colleagues! I have so much love and respect for them all and I feel that we make a good team, we always try to lift each other up and be there for each other!