Memorandum submitted by Nacro
1. Nacro welcomes the opportunity to give
evidence to the Committee's hearing on prison education. As a
leading crime reduction charity, Nacro considers education, including
all types of skills development, as central to enabling people
to resettle successfully in the community on release and to lead
constructive, law-abiding lives.
2. Our key points are:
a single professional should take
lead responsibility for the educational and other welfare of each
prisoner, assisted by the effective sharing of information;
the voluntary sector can play a crucial
role in developing and delivering appropriate and effective prison
education and resettlement programmes; a "mixed economy"
of providers is essential to meeting the needs of people with
complex and varied needs;
the design of prison education work
and the way in which it is implemented must remain in the spirit
of the proposals in the Department for Education and Skills' Green
Paper on Reducing reoffending through learning and skills;
skills development must be given
the widest possible definition;
sentence management is key: overcrowding,
frequent movement of prisoners with little notice and holding
prisoners far from home limit access to education opportunities,
prevent prisoners from completing courses and make it hard to
match them with further provision on release; and
skills and employment could become
more mainstreamed into prison life.
3. Nacro, the crime reduction charity, has
been designing and delivering resettlement programmes for prisoners
and other offenders for 40 years, including education and training
programmes and programmes to improve people's employability skills.
4. During 2005-06, Nacro helped 81,000 people
through our practical serviceslargely education, training
and employment services, youth engagement programmes, supported
housing and information and advice services. During the year,
we helped more than 20,000 serving prisoners, providing resettlement
advice, assisting with jobs, training and benefits and guidance
on a wide range of issues. We also work with people immediately
on their release from prison, based on our belief that providing
sustained, integrated resettlement support before and after release
provides a solid base on which to build a new life.
5. Offenders' disadvantaged position in
education and employmentboth before and after their involvement
in the criminal justice systemis now an accepted fact,
as is the importance of improving skills and employment prospects
as a part of reducing the likelihood of reoffending. In our response
to the Green Paper, Reducing Reoffending through Skills and
Employment, Nacro welcomed the Government's recognition of,
and commitment to, the need to develop wider employability skills
amongst that group mirrors our long-held view that this is necessary.
6. We had already welcomed the proposal
that a single professional to take responsibility for each offender
throughout their sentence, if this process is managed properly.
The proposals in the Green Paper aimed at reducing duplication
of effort (such as in assessment) through the better sharing of
information between agencies are long overdue. Recognition of
prior achievement by ex-offenders is likely to make a difference
to them practically and psychologically, improving both their
CV and their motivation.
7. We are pleased that the Government recognises
the valuable role the voluntary and community sector can play
in shaping and implementing policies and programmes addressing
these issues. And we are particularly glad that the Green Paper
emphasises the importance of seamlessly matching support and provision
for offenders in custody and in the community, particularly as
they move between the two.
8. For some offenders, where prison is a
short interruption to a fairly stable life, the approach outlined
in the Green Paper can be achieved in a straightforward way. However,
for many offenderswho are also the most marginalised in
societytheir route in to employment may be different and
will be more complicated. Most of the offenders Nacro works with
lack fundamental life skills. They are likely to have dropped
out of school and will struggle to live independently. In many
cases, they are simply not ready to engage in vocational training,
nor to hold down a job.
9. We need to make sure that there is a
"mixed economy" of service providers offering education,
training and employment programmes for offenders. This should
include organisations that understand and have experience of dealing
with the specific education needs of this marginalised group.
As I have said above, Nacro is pleased that the Government recognises
the role of voluntary organisations. The "hardest-to-help"
offenders are often wary of schools, colleges and statutory authorities;
voluntary organisations can be better placed to engage very disaffected
people in services.
10. We need to learn from previous initiatives.
The devil is always in the detail. How this work is delivered
in our prisons and communities needs to be attuned to the spirit
of the proposals, something that has not always been the case.
The Green Paper talks of reviewing Learning and Skills Council
(LSC) funding to expand the range of opportunities for young offendersa
suggestion to be welcomedbut there is no detail on what
this might involve.
11. The LSC-funded pilot programme designed
and delivered by the Learning Alliance (a consortium of specialist
training providers of which Nacro is a member) to bring Entry
to Employment (E2E) into young offender institutions could provide
both useful lessons and a replicable model for one such opportunity.
E2E was designed as a programme for young people not yet ready
for mainstream vocational traininga group clearly including
many young offenders. This pilot enabled those serving custodial
(and some community) sentences to start their training while in
custody, and matched them to providers on release. Results from
the two years of operation were promising and could inform aspects
of programme design and delivery for young offenders, especially
addressing the problem of offenders "falling through the
net" as they leave custody and move back into the communitybut
funding ended after two years and the programme had to be closed.
(The lessons from the pilot are being put to some use through
a new resettlement programme for young offenders leaving custody
being delivered by Rathbone in three areas, in partnership with
the Youth Justice Board and the LSC.)
12. While we support the idea of employment
and training initiatives linked to employers and targeting sectors
with labour shortages, this is not a realistic option for the
majority of offenders because they don't have the skills to compete
at this level and are far from employable. Employability skills
must be given the widest possible definition, to include areas
such as communication skills, timekeeping, personal hygiene and
team working. And the support necessary to address personal issuessuch
as housing need, drug use or mental health problems, all of which
will have an impact on employabilitymust be embedded in
the learning programme, or participants will be set up to fail.
Individually-tailored packages of support are the most effective
means of ensuring successful resettlement, and we suggest that
the ability to provide this flexibility is one of the voluntary
sector's key strengths.
13. While Nacro recognises the importance
of basic skills in improving someone's employment chances (and
runs basic skills programmes in partnership with probation services
in a number of areas), these alone will not enable many offenders
to find and keep a job. The "offender learning journey"
proposed in the Green Paper could provide the flexibility needed
to allow offenders to work at different levels as circumstances
change (including moving into and out of formal qualification
streams), but funding and delivery mechanisms need to allow this
14. Employers are seen as key players in
the design and implementation of work-focussed support for offenders.
The Paper talks of an "employer-led, demand-driven system"
as being essential to increase the number of job opportunities
for offenders. Nacro knows, from many years of finding work placements
for learners to give them valuable real-work experience, that
it is possible to make the case for taking on offenders and to
find employers who will give them a chanceif offered sufficient
support, adequate risk assessment and careful placement choices.
But we also know from that experience, and from the experiences
of those who use our Resettlement Plus helpline, that many employers
areat bestuncertain and concerned about doing so
and othersat worstopenly resistant. The disclosure
criminal record checking system (particularly if basic disclosures
are introduced) also militates against offenders in recruitment
processes with many employers.
This work with employers is essential as an educative process
as well as one to increase job opportunities but the size of the
task must not be underestimated.
15. A key point is that resettlement should
be a process, not a series of events. For people with this level
of complexity in their lives, a single intervention will not make
the difference. Relationships between prison establishments, supervising
bodies, learning providers, specialist organisations and referral/endorsement
agencies need to be carefully worked out. The role of a supervising
worker from a statutory organisation cannot and should not entail
the daily engagement, guidance, mentoring and advocacy necessary
to support offenders in their development and learning. The continuous
learning experience needs to be placed in the centre of the provision,
with specialist interventions brought in at the right time and
integrated with the learning process. Offenders, like all of us,
do not experience their problems sequentially and conclusively
during a short period of time before employment or training.
16. We welcome the recognition of the importance
of providing support immediately on release from prison (ideally,
this support would start during the custodial sentence, providing
"a bridge between prison and the community"). Nacro
and other voluntary organisations have established and run schemes
offering such integrated, "through the gate" services
that could provide models for replication. But support needs to
be ongoing in the months following release, allowing for the "one
step forward, two back" effect many offenders experience
on leaving prison. Nacro's experience in this work, such as that
gained in running the "Milestones" project in Portland
Young Offender Institution, suggests that long-term support is
essentialas could be provided, for example, by volunteer
17. We would welcome any efforts to develop
community prisons and other initiatives which would allow prisoners
to be held close to their home area and family ties, and those
which encourages prisons to build links with other organisationsincluding
employers but also training providers and support servicesin
their local community. This will not be possible if work on community
involvement and resettlement is pushed aside by a growing prison
population and panic responses to media-led crises. Access to
education opportunities and the ability of prisoners to complete
courses are made very much more difficult when a prison is overcrowded.
18. Sentence management is key to motivating
more offenders to engage in education and training: education
and employment work needs to be integrated into the wider NOMS
aspirations of clear sentence planning and end-to-end offender
management. NOMS aims to hold prisoners close to their home wherever
possible, but in the main this does not happen. Large numbers
of medium- and long-term prisoners, particularly women, are routinely
held a long way from home. If people are held in prisons within
the area to which they are to be released, this would make it
much easier to establish links with service and training providers
in the lead up to release. Many prisoners are moved from establishment
to establishment at short notice, making it difficult to maintain
training courses and other educational opportunities. Better sentence
management would enable more people to undertake education programmes,
especially those of any length, would improve motivation and could
allow for the development of stronger relationships with prison
education staff and other providers, and should result in improved
19. Timely interventions, happening in the
right order, are key to success. In Nacro's experience, successful
resettlement generally happens as a series of small steps, and
incentives need to be timed carefully so that participants are
not set up to fail, and good work undone. We would also urge that
care is taken not to penalise prisoners and offenders by denying
incentives where access to employment-enhancing activity is simply
not available. Encouraging sentencers to take advantage of opportunities
within the Criminal Justice Act (2003) to promote education and
employment is a valuable aim, but would require those preparing
pre-sentence reports to have some understanding and knowledge
of education, training and employment provision and opportunities.
We are not sure how realistic this might be.
20. An issue related to sentencingand
one that could have a significant impact on removing barriers
to employment for ex-offenderswould be to implement the
recommendations from the review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders
21. Skills and employment could become more
mainstreamed into prison life, making the best use of opportunities
for offenders to develop relevant, up-to-date, marketable skills
to support progression to employment, by the provision of training,
using up-to-date equipment and resources, in vocational areas
that link with local labour markets. Links with employers would
enable the delivery of contracts in prisons and would also give
prisoners the opportunity to have job interviews as part of their
preparation for release. Work trials in different vocational areas,
and work placements, would give people valuable opportunities
to try out areas of work and get useful workplace experience.
22. Nacro welcomes the notion of a genuine
commissioning process rather than one of competition, allowing
for organisations to work to their strengths and the building
of partnerships, rather than allowing some sectors and institutions
to dominate, to the detriment of the offender.
23. The Green Paper talks of wanting to
resolve the "finance gap" between release from prison
and the first benefit payment, yet the prison discharge grant
is less than one week's Jobseekers' Allowance payment (and remand
prisoners and some other categories are ineligible), despite the
recommendation made in the Social Exclusion Unit report "Reducing
reoffending by ex-prisoners" in 2002 that the discharge grant
be increased to cover the period before the first benefit payment
can be made). In addition, the homeless rate discharge grant has
been abolished, leaving only a £50 payment made at the discretion
24. Nacro would make the following recommendations:
that the provision of prison education
be delivered by agencies from a "mixed economy", including
the voluntary sector.
that lessons are learned from previous
experience, including the replication of successful projects across
the prison estate.
that education and skills programmes
take account of the fact that offenders' needs are complex and
ever-changing, and the skills development covers the widest range
of skills, including basic, personal and social skills, and that
programmes are individually-tailored and flexible.
that interventions within prisons
are matched with those available to prisoners on release.
that issues with sentence management
are addressed so that prisoners' education and training are not
are jeopardised by frequent movements between establishments,
nor that prisoners are penalised for shortcomings with the education
provision in the establishment in which they are being held.
9 NOMS: Will it work? Nacro, June 2004. Back
See Getting Disclosures Right: A review of the use and misuse
of criminal record disclosures, with a guide to best practice
and assessing risk Nacro, January 2006. Back