Founder of the AP Foundation, Andrew Pritchard was brought up in the London borough of Hackney and Stoke Newington, where he was part of Britain’s first mixed-race generation born in the sixties. His first encounter with the prison service was in October 1986 when he was sentenced to 18 months in youth custody.
By the age of 21, he was organising some of the largest illegal warehouse raves in the country during the acid house party craze of the late 1980s. A successful entrepreneur and concert promoter for over 27 years, he revived the iconic Reggae Sunsplash festival, staging one of London’s largest music events in Victoria Park.
At the same time, he was also masterminding some of the world’s biggest drug smuggling operations and soon began appearing in the United States Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration’s Annual Global Report and even featured in the Sunday People’s Criminal Rich List. In 2006, he was acquitted of a £100 million drug seizure case, before his criminal career was finally brought to an end, which resulted in him receiving a 15-year prison sentence for intent to supply and perverting the course of justice.
Assessed by the prison service as a very high-risk Category A prisoner for whom escape must be made impossible, he was to spend a number of years in some of Britain’s most challenging goals in the company of some of the world’s most dangerous criminals.
Being locked up and away from his ageing parents, family and children, Andrew had to face the consequences of his criminal past and it was whilst in prison, he made the big decision to change his life.
Soon after my arrest I was sent to H.M.P Belmarsh, a high security prison in south east London, one of Britain’s most secure prisons and home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals.
From my dismal cell, I soon noticed that there were numerous acts of violence happening among the younger inmates that often resulted in serious injuries among those involved and to the prison officers as they tried to restore order. This led to all the inmates being denied privileges and finding ourselves regularly locked up in cells for up to 23 hours day.
I began to realise that many of these young prisoners were gang members having been members of post code gangs out in the community before their incarceration. And while their numbers were smaller in prison, they still engineered relationships and allegiances that were territorial, and this created tension and hostility. While conflict between these groups was not always down to gang issues, it was sometimes about their need to establish status, dominance and respect, however, in a prison environment such rivalries and needs can escalate very quickly into seriously heavy and bloody violence.
After observing this for a number of months, I realised something needed to be done, if not for them, at least for my own sanity.
I began discussing the problem with a number of other senior Category A prisoners and slowly a plan of action began to emerge. I approached Governor Beverley Clark, (Governor, Safer Custody HMP Belmarsh) during one of the monthly “Safer Custody Meetings” with my plan.
After several weeks developing a rehabilitation programme, selecting eight prominent prisoners to become ‘Peer Mentors’ and working with The Reformed Foundation to create a bespoke mediation and mentoring course, we were ready to launch One Postcode.
Its success was immediate and far reaching.
Assaults at HMP Belmarsh dropped almost immediately. 86% of the negotiated treaties between the rival inmates were maintained. Pressure on officer numbers was reduced as it was no longer necessary to ‘escort’ prisoners around the prison. A safer environment was achieved for those working, living and visiting the prison and most importantly, there was increased interest from a large number of other prisoners wanting to become involved.
A plan had started to form in my mind of what I needed to do to help fix the problems facing young people, and so I created the AP Foundation to provide a platform from which to make it happen.
“Belmarsh prisoners wanted to start a new project to deal with gangs and gang culture. To try and stop the gang fighting while in custody and hence wanted them all to live under One Post Code, that of Belmarsh. The training took place over a week and all the prisoners loved it. They felt empowered and had skills to deal with prisoners in gangs who wanted to live violent free while in custody. We look forward to a fresh group who have signed up to the One Post Code and they can help promote a violent free environment to live in and hopefully take this thought process away with them either on release or into other “establishments.”
Beverley Clark (Governor, Safer Custody, HMP Belmarsh)
“In response to the rising levels of violence in prisons the Safer Prisons team and a motivated group of prisoners examined some of the underlying casual factors and what could be done to address these. … What developed was the One Post Code initiative. … Initial results saw a significant number of resolutions of known conflicts across the establishment. … The project has had clear success”.
Anthony Travers (Head of Safer Prisons, HMP Belmarsh)
“…our One Postcode Mentors have facilitated over 30 successful non-violent gang conflict resolutions, also violence, including assaults on staff have dropped to a minimum.”
Steve Branch (Safer Custody Officer, HMP Belmarsh)