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Former prisoner job plan ignores their broader needs

20 December 2006

The government's plans to reduce prisoner reoffending may be ignoring essential prisoner needs for education and support, according to teachers who work in prisons. The teachers' views were submitted to the Education and Skills Select Committee which this week quizzed Ministers on progress in implementing recommendations for prison education.

The government is planning to link up with employers to identify which skills offenders should develop. The intention is to concentrate offender training upon locally needed skills, giving released prisoners a better chance of finding work and 'going straight'. The idea is part of an initiative called 'Next Steps'.

Prisoner educators agree that finding employment is a major factor in reducing reoffending, but fear that the plans are too aspirational and ignore some of the basic problems in prisons which still have not been tackled, such as overcrowding, transfer of prisoners in the middle of an educational or training course, the fact that prisoners' records are not transferred with them, and that prisoners are often paid less to attend training and education than other prison activities.

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents 1100 prisoner educators, says many shortcomings in the organisation of offender learning must be addressed if there is to be any hope of reducing reoffending.

UCU national official for prisoner educators, Christiane Ohsan, said: 'We fully support the proposals to help prisoners to acquire skills needed in their local economy, to give them a better chance of employment. But we are concerned that concentrating prisoner training on a narrow range of low level skills for employment may be setting them up to fail again.

'Constant changes in plans for prisons do not allow initiatives to be properly consolidated and there is no evidence that there has been any evaluation of what does and does not work before new measures are introduced.

'We need offender learning to be better organised. The constant disruption from the contracting out of prison education and the poor working conditions of teaching staff have produced low morale and a regular staff turnover. It is time for a national consultative forum in which the professional concerns of prison educators are addressed and ideas can be fed into national policy development.'


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