An inside perspective using lived experience to inform UK prison practice and system.
For 41-year-old Andrew Brierley (Andi) from Leeds, May is a significant month in the calendar. On 5 May 2005 he left prison, as an inmate, for the very last time after serving four separate prison sentences. Fast forward to 2023 and this year on the same day of the month, The Good Prison Officer: Inside perspective – the book Andi edited – became available to the public.
Andi started as a University Teacher at Leeds Trinity University in 2021 and has recently taken up the role of Head of Access, Participation and Outcomes in the Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) at the University. Andi has worked hard to make positive and life-long changes to take him from a young life of petty crime – driven by addiction – to now using his lived experience and inside perspective of the prison system to help shape and inform UK prison policy and practice.
Now with an extensive 15-year career in Youth Justice, Andi has written and had published three books relating to crime and justice. His writing combines his practice experience and research, alongside his lived experience of adverse childhood experiences, the care experience, school exclusion, drug addiction, and youth incarceration.
As a child, Andi didn’t have the best start in life. He came from a chaotic family environment where he had lived in 18 different homes, including some foster homes, before the age of 13. Andi was excluded from school and, at the age of 15, he was addicted to heroin and ended up in prison with his brother aged 14. He spent four years in prison but always got himself a job when he was out as a way of trying to take some control of his life.
Whilst in prison, Andi decided to put himself forward for the Community Sports Leadership Award (CSLA), which he successfully achieved. He originally thought ‘who would give me a job in sports leadership? But taking part means I can get out of my cell.’ This was challenged by a prison officer who asked him ‘why not use what you achieve in here when you are out of prison?’
After leaving prison, Andi started his career working within the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) with young people assessed as high risk, or on release from custody on intensive licence conditions.
After studying for a Youth Justice foundation degree with the Open University in 2013, where he continued his role in the workplace alongside classroom-based learning, Andi then became a Youth Justice Officer and continued to lead projects around care leavers in the criminal justice system. In September 2021, Andi became a Senior University Teacher at Leeds Trinity University delivering the MSc in Applied Custodial Leadership in partnership with the Unlocked Graduates programme.
Earlier this year, Andi started in his new role as Head of Access, Participation and Outcomes for the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) at Leeds Trinity University. In his new role, Andi coordinates the Access and Participation Plan (APP) which enables disadvantaged students to access education and experience the same transformative transition he did.
He now has a full Fellowship with the Higher Education Academy and is studying for a PhD.
Andi Brierley said: “The Good Prison Officer is a proud editor moment for me. All seven authors who contributed on this publication have been in custody, six in youth custody, four have been in care, five in recovery and none of them completed school. The critics said we would not amount to much in life, yet here we are as authors sharing our experiences and using this as a platform to help others to help themselves to make positive changes. I am proud to be able to use my lived experience to inform the UK prison practice.
“I am a firm believer that if people are given an opportunity, supported, guided and encouraged, these individuals can go on to play a positive part in contributing to communities. I often ask, who sets the culture? For me, we all play a part in the culture of our society and can all bring different perspectives and learn from one another.”
Professor Danielle McDermott, Head of Prisons and Custody at Leeds Trinity University, said: “Andi’s work is a unique approach, centred around first-hand lived experienced of the prison system, together with significant practice experience, to help improve prison officer practice, and in turn the wider prison system. I am proud of what Andi has accomplished in his personal and professional life and it’s a pleasure to work alongside him. Andi is an inspirational person who is passionate about using his own experience to change the system for the better.”
Leeds Trinity University has worked in partnership with Unlocked since 2020 to deliver a national leadership scheme that involves a combination of classroom-based learning, as well as practical frontline work on the landings as Prison Officers.