October 21, 2021

Prison Industries: Toothbrushes, Textiles and Tea Bags

Jason Swettenham
Head of Prison Industries, Catering, Retail and PE

In this blog, Jason Swettenham, Head of Public Sector Prison Industries, provides an insight into the range and volume of essential goods produced in prison workshops, and their important role in supporting safe and decent regimes, as well as providing transferable skills for employment on release.

Six-hundred thousand toothbrushes, 100 million teabags, and textiles that could stretch from London to Cairo.

You could be forgiven for not automatically thinking of HMPPS when you hear those statistics, but this is exactly some of the work that is undertaken by Public Sector Prison Industries (PSPI). PSPI manages a wide range of workshops across all public sector prisons from catering and canteen, to essential goods and services. We operate almost 350 workshops that provide employment opportunities for over 7000 people in prison.

Brewing up wellbeing support

Within that remit falls critical decency kit, clothing, and the all-important cup of tea.

The focus for us is the provision of essential goods for the custodial market and the ability to meet the demands of prison establishments. We see our job as supporting prison governors to help them run safe and stable prisons by the production and delivery of clothing, kit, retail products, daily meals, and the enablement of physical education activities to further support prisoner wellbeing and health.

PSPI food packing services supply 100 million teabags to public sector prisons every year. A commodity appraisal panel independently tested the tea against leading brands and it was chosen as the best tasting product.

As well as teabags, PSPI produce boxer shorts, sweatshirts, jogging bottoms, t-shirts, towels, pillowcases, sheets, blankets, fleeces, workwear, gym vests, jeans and kitchen wear. The total amount of textiles used annually would be 2,200 miles long, enough to stretch from London and Cairo.

Don’t forget your toothbrush

When it comes to toothbrushes, innovation and partnership working ensures prisoners’ oral hygiene is not forgotten about.

Toothbrushes were previously bought from outside of the UK, but the product provided didn’t support a strong or positive oral health message.

A new partnership was launched with Public Health England last year, and a small workshop was opened at HMP Garth. This created an opportunity to provide higher quality toothbrushes that could be manufactured by people in prison using new state of the art machinery. This workshop is one of the small number of toothbrush manufacturers in the whole of the UK.

Studies show that people in prison are more likely to suffer from oral diseases. They have lower uptake levels of dental treatment, and have less motivation to maintain their oral health in comparison to the general population.

The design of the new brush was influenced by prisoner focus groups at HMP Garth and HMP Standford Hill. The toothbrush is florescent yellow for ease of visibility on the wing and has a crown logo on its handle. 

During the design process, sustainability was an important objective, with the toothbrush being fully recyclable. The finished product has achieved the Oral Health Foundation accreditation for its recyclable production.

As well as offering improved health and wellbeing to people in custody, the manufacture of this product also brings the benefit of purposeful activity places for people working in the production site.

This has a positive impact on the health of those in prison. This small, yet incredibly critical item supports decency, activity and work within the prison population. It also helps the individuals engaged in the manufacture of the items to gain transferable skills for them to use on their release.

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