Prison Optician Trust opens frame supply service for independent practices
Liberty Glasses offers a range of frames glazed by ex-offenders, with hopes of launching its own branded frames in 2021
The acetate frames, currently including brands such as Battatura and Jack & Francis, are purchased for the organisation’s prison optometry contracts and glazed with prescription lenses by prisoners as part of the trust’s training programme.
The training programme aims to support prisoners to gain new skills in spectacle making and secure work in the future. Between 2016 and 2020, the Prison Optician Trust has trained over 60 prisoners, with 45 of those individuals securing paid work within optics.
It is hoped that Liberty Glasses will be able to launch its own branded frames in 2021 and will support the creation of more jobs for ex-offenders.
OT caught up with optometrist Tanjit Dosanjh to find out more about the plans for Liberty Glasses, and how The Prison Optician Trust has been affected by COVID-19.
Could you tell us what led to the launch of Liberty Glasses and what the new brand hopes to achieve?The Prison Optician Trust has been going since 2015. We have been successful in securing prison optometry contracts, which means we have created a lot of job opportunities for optometrists. However, we want to create more jobs in-house for non-qualified staff.
Currently, all of the people we train are then passed on to an employer who is willing to give them their second-chance. But we want to provide a soft landing place for those prisoners that require more time to adapt to life on the outside. We want to create an environment where the prisoner can receive training from us whilst they are in prison, and then will have a job waiting for them when they are released.
They can continue working for us, and we believe that within a 12-month or two-year period, those prisoners will have adapted to life on the outside and will be ready for a job with a commercial employer.
What can you tell us about the glasses themselves?Currently, where we have plenty of frames available through our prison contracts, we are going to make these available to order for independent practices.
In the longer-term, our aim is to sell our own branded Liberty Glasses into brick-and-mortar practices. If we can generate enough sales through orders from those independent practices, we can then start creating more jobs for our beneficiaries.
We are going to be looking for some modern frames with longevity to them and mark them as glazed by prisoners. We are working with prison artists to design patterns to feature on the temples.
Currently, the chequered Liberty Glasses logo design is created by a random generator. This creates a unique design every time, with the idea being that everyone – and everyone’s story – is unique. We also opted for the yellow and black colour scheme because we feel that not everything is black and white.
We are a social brand, so if you want to sell your customers something that is slightly different from normal glasses, and if you feel that your customers would be interested in the cause we are fighting for, then this is an opportunity for you.
What would be your key message for practices?
Reducing re-offending is very complicated and severely underfunded, and so we are doing something quite innovative.
We are also going to be pricing these frames competitively. For Liberty Glasses, it is less about profit-making, and more about creating jobs for this particular beneficiary group.
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis
How was The Prison Opticians Trust affected by COVID-19?We work across approximately 65 prisons across the UK. Towards the end of February we were getting more nervous about COVID-19 and by mid-March we explained that we felt we should cease providing eye tests, as that is what the General Optical Council (GOC) was doing in the community.
We needed to establish a different way of doing things. In the community, patients could just pick up the telephone or visit the optometrist for an emergency appointment. We were concerned that if we stopped visiting prisons completely, how would those prisoners handle a genuine emergency?
We designed an optician triage form which the patient can fill in. This is scanned and emailed across to one of our optometrists who takes a look through the form and makes a decision over whether it is nothing to worry about or if it would be a routine request, such as replacing spectacles.
If there was something of clinical concern, where the patient had indicated they had some symptoms, such as flashing lights, then we would hold a telephone consultation. It does impose some logistical problems in prison, as, in order for us to talk to them over the telephone, we need a prisoner to be brought over to the healthcare department at a particular time, so that our optometrist can call into the prison on a particular number into the nurse’s office. The optometrist would then ask another series of questions.
If from the telephone triage, the optometrist felt it required further intervention, a group of three of us would decide whether it should be referred. If the case needed to be seen, we would send one of our own optometrists onto the site with all of the necessary personal protective equipment, and they would hold a face-to-face visit. I think, out of these visits, one patient was referred on, while on the other occasions our optometrist was able to provide advice and ensure the problem could be dealt with in-house.
During COVID-19, our training programme had to be put on hold. As the situation improves, our plan will be to start delivering training inside the prisons by distance-learning to begin with, as prisons begin to restart those training services.
Is there a learning from this experience you would take away for the future?This triage system was something we had been talking about implementing for some time and is something we are going to continue.
I think COVID-19 gave me a lot more time to work on new projects, whereas before I think I was probably running around facing the everyday challenges. We have had some time to reflect on what our future plans are and the key things we need to do.
The Liberty Glasses concept was an idea we had in the back of our minds for at least a couple of years. Now, despite COVID-19, we will make a good go of it. I’m hopeful that, five years from now, the Liberty Glasses brand will be firmly established, and employing hopefully between 15 and 20 men.