ACACIA Prison in Wooroloo is under the helm of a new man whose record of duty lists management of the largest maximum-security prison in the UK.
David Thompson is a former governor of West Yorkshire’s Wakefield Prison, labelled ‘Monster Mansion’ by the British media.
The miner’s son from Thornley, County Durham, received an OBE in the 2010 UK honours for his considerable prison service.
He spoke exclusively to the Gazette about his career and prison management style.
“I wanted to learn a trade and started out as an apprentice carpenter and joiner,” he said.
An advertisement in a newspaper for prison guards in 1979 caught his attention and he was curious.
He later discovered that of the 70 candidates who applied for a job, he was one of only three to complete the day of tests and interviews.
“One of the first lessons I learned in jail craft as a young and impressionable prison officer was never to judge a person by their appearance,” he said.
“It doesn’t take a big man to pull a trigger” – a piece of advice he has shared with many over the years.
His prison pathway is long and varied, including time spent at young offenders’ institutions, prison service headquarters and governor of top security Frankland Jail, near Durham.
He briefly contemplated retiring and then came the call from Serco to manage Acacia Prison.
“I’d always wanted to travel and work overseas; when Serco came knocking, I was tempted,” he said.
“Running a prison well is about forging good working relationships.
“I say to staff when people cross the prison threshold, whatever you think you know about them matters not.
“Understanding and awareness training for staff is critical; I believe in the decency agenda.
“Treat prisoners the way you would want a loved one treated coming into prison.
“It’s about providing a safe and settled environment for some of the country’s most vulnerable and challenging people.”
He said Acacia would not tolerate illegal drugs and other contraband.
“There is always something in a prison that has a ‘currency’ in prisons,” he said.
“Visitors who attempt to smuggle contraband will be dealt with by the police and we will ban them from the prison.”
Expansion of the young adults community for offenders aged from 18 to 27 is a rehabilitation focus at Acacia.
Giving young people a good start in life is an ethos Mr Thompson, who has five children, holds dear; he and his wife have fostered more than 120 children.
Mr Thompson said education and training were critical components of rehabilitation, along with strong mentorship from prison officers and the vital support needed when prisoners start afresh on the other side.
At the time of the latest prison inspection, 32 per cent (441) of Acacia’s population were aged 27 or under.
Mr Thompson appeared undaunted by the scale of his new role as director of the largest prison in the southern hemisphere.
“Private prisons are held to account; you get what you pay for and there are penalties to pay when requirements are not met,” he said.
“Working in the private sector, there is far more scope for innovation.”