Blueprint for success

Three years ago an article I wrote was published in the journal Learning Disability Practice, and it has had a massive affect on my career and my life. The article was about the challenges of running a learning disability service in a Scottish prison.

In 2002, I went to work in a prison as a practitioner nurse. When I began I was incredibly naive. I imagined life in prison would be like episodes of Porridge and Prisoner Cell Block H, mixed with Escape from Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption. I had not imagined I would find people with learning disabilities behind prison walls.

When I asked my clinical nurse manager how these prisoners were being supported the incredulous look on her face gave me the unspoken answer I did not want to hear.

Cover-march-2010Over the next four years I developed a system, eventually termed Blueprint, to ensure that all learning disabled prisoners could be identified and supported in the prison. I adopted a multidisciplinary team approach and encouraged community learning disability teams to improve the through-care process.

Recently, after analysing our data, we realised we have cut the usual reoffending rates by half.

I made a ridiculous number of mistakes along the way, mainly because there was little research about prisoners with learning disabilities. When I made a comment about this lack of research to a nursing college lecturer, he said: ‘Why don’t you write about your project?’

It took seven drafts before the article was approved for publication and when I received a letter informing me my article was going to be published, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

My article was published in March 2010 and the effect was immediate. Having previously received four or five work-related emails a week, I began to receive between 15 and 20, many from nurses asking for advice about prisoners and offenders with learning disabilities. I started receiving emails from professionals in other countries.

To date, my Blueprint system and the experiences I described in the article are informing practices in more than 30 prisons in nine countries around the world.

A colleague said to me at a conference recently: ‘Some of your prisoners get out more than you do,’ and it is true that I do not network as well as others. But at the same conference a learning disability nurse whom I did not know said: ‘So you’re Gary Docherty, I’ve read your research.’ Three years after writing the article, the recognition still takes me by surprise.

About the author

Gary Docherty is a learning disability nurse at Her Majesty’s Prison Greenock, Glasgow

This is an edited version of an article in the September 2013 issue of Learning Disability Practice. The reference for Gary’s original article is: Docherty G (2010). Learning Disability Practice. 13, 2, 23-27.