Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence

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 services—largely 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 employment—both before and after their involvement in the criminal justice system—is 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.[9] 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 offenders—who are also the most marginalised in society—their 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 offenders—a suggestion to be welcomed—but 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 training—a 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 community—but 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 issues—such as housing need, drug use or mental health problems, all of which will have an impact on employability—must 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 to happen.

  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 chance—if 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 are—at best—uncertain and concerned about doing so and others—at worst—openly resistant. The disclosure criminal record checking system (particularly if basic disclosures are introduced) also militates against offenders in recruitment processes with many employers.[10] 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 essential—as could be provided, for example, by volunteer mentors.

  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 organisations—including employers but also training providers and support services—in 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 qualification rates.

  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 sentencing—and one that could have a significant impact on removing barriers to employment for ex-offenders—would be to implement the recommendations from the review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

  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 of governors.


  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.

December 2006

9   NOMS: Will it work? Nacro, June 2004. Back

10   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

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