Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence


Joint memorandum submitted by Women in Prison (WIP), the Creative and Supportive Trust (CAST), and Clean Break

SUMMARY

    —  There is much that needs to be done to improve education services provided to women both in prison and following release.

    —  Women have different needs from men in terms of the type of education and skills training required.

    —  An over-emphasis on offenders starting work quickly after leaving prison is unrealistic given the starting point and complex needs of offenders generally and women prisoners in particular.

    —  There is a need for greater funding of voluntary and community sector groups who can provide services after release and whilst women are in prison, thus ensuring continuity of service provision; long-term funding is crucial if these services are to be viable.

    —  The design of the National Offender Management Service is disadvantageous to women in relation to increasing regionalisation and according greater service provision to those who pose greatest risk to the public.

    —  Women generally serve shorter sentences than men, and are therefore less eligible for education and skills training though their needs are at least as great: women need to start education and skills training whilst in prison, and continue this training after release within the community.

    —  The geographical spread of women's prisons means women are more likely than men to be in prison a long distance from their resettlement area.

    —  Under the approaching active legal duty on public bodies to promote gender equality, government will need to ensure its services, and those of the agencies it contracts with, meet the specific needs of women offenders.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  Women in Prison (WIP), Creative And Supportive Trust (CAST), and Clean Break welcome the Education and Skills Select Committee's decision to follow up their report into education in prison, and we have taken this opportunity to make a combined submission from our organisations focusing on the educational needs of women within the criminal justice system.

COMPLEX NEEDS OF WOMEN OFFENDERS

  2.  Women offenders, as the Government has recognised, have specific needs and characteristics which pose challenges to the provision of education services. Women prisoners are more likely to have considerably lower education levels and less stable housing than men in prison. Their employment histories are characterised by limited experience of stable employment, less even than male prisoners. They are much more likely to be solely responsible for the care of children and maintenance of a home than male prisoners.

  3.  Women prisoners' underlying needs in terms of histories of victimisation and abuse, mental health issues and substance misuse are further complications.

EMPLOYMENT SKILLS ACQUISITION

  4.  As the Government has recognised in the Green Paper skills acquisition and preparation for employment is central to the purpose of prison. Too often learning and skills has been seen by some prison staff as a soft option and as peripheral to the core business of a prison.

  5.  The expectation that offenders can be employable is important for employers and for offenders themselves. Most of the women prisoners we work with want a "normal" life—a stable home and a job. They may feel this is a distant prospect, far removed from their experience, but tapping into whatever their aspirations are and taking them seriously is vital. The Green Paper conveys a message that nobody should be written off.

  6.  However, it is vital that long-term support and real job opportunities for offenders are out there. We are not convinced that this is the case.

THE PATH TO EMPLOYMENT

  7.  We have reservations about the emphasis in the Green Paper on employment apparently soon after release. It is unlikely that many women will be able to benefit from job search in the last few weeks of a sentence or to move into a job placement in the week they are released.

  8.  We believe that agencies working with offenders on employability must not be tightly bound to unrealistic targets and all involved must recognise that the road to employment may be a long one.

  9.  Professor Mike Maguire's work on desistance from crime talks about the importance of "support in the face of setbacks" and calls desistance a "difficult and lengthy process". His research found that lapses are common and should be expected, and that the factors most important in provision of services are continuity, offering a holistic response, a personal relationship, empathy and pro-social modelling.[11]

  10.  We endorse this view, and consider that it is especially relevant to women offenders given their characteristics and histories.

  11.  We would urge the Committee to call on the Government to detail their plans for intensive support for women offenders.

EDUCATIONAL NEEDS

  12.  Women's education needs are different from men's. Where men have traditionally been taught a trade, this is less applicable to women. Women need skills training that goes beyond that linked to low-paid employment traditionally regarded as feminine. We have been disheartened to see NVQ1 in cleaning in one establishment for example. This is unlikely to give women the means to secure stable jobs that provide an income to support a family.

ARTS AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

  13.  Education not directly related to employment such as arts and personal development activities have a contribution to make to employability. They increase confidence and self esteem and may help offenders take the first psychological steps towards considering education and employment as being relevant to them.

  14.  Allison Liebling's recent work on safer local prisons correlates personal development activity with reduced distress and reduced levels of suicide.[12]

  15.  According to the Government's own research, "The arts play an important role in work with offenders, providing valuable opportunities to complement and enhance the education curriculum, increase employability and enable self-development. There is evidence to show how participation in the arts can offer a wide range of positive results and benefits including: increased confidence and self-esteem; improved communication skills; improved mental well-being; new skills and qualifications; and finding a way into employment. Many of these benefits are fundamental elements in the delivery of learning and skills." Furthermore, "The arts can also foster qualities which many other parts of the curriculum do not by: focusing on people and team work; developing individual creativity allowing engagement in activities by choice; enabling feelings to be explored and encouraging self-responsibility; and raising aspirations and support behavioural change."[13]

  16.  These activities must not be sidelined by an uncompromising focus on skills training.

DISTANCE LEARNING

  17.  Not all prisoners will be interested in the skills training available in their establishment. Success will mean taking into account individual aspirations and circumstances.

  18.  Distance learning is an invaluable tool in catering for individual aspirations. There is a huge range of subjects and levels available. Distance learning should not be thought of as necessarily high-level study. Open University is at one end of the spectrum, but women prisoners funded by WIP are studying GCSEs, taster courses and access courses among other things.

  19.  With the right support, distance learning can provide some of the continuity that is lacking in the system as courses follow the prisoner on transfer. Peer support activities can be organised around distance learning. WIP has developed a peer mentoring programme for distance learners in women's prisons.

FUNDING FOR COMMUNITY GROUPS

  20.  There is a need for greater funding of voluntary and community sector groups who can provide services after release and whilst women are in prison, thus ensuring continuity of service provision; long-term funding is crucial if these services are to be viable.

  21.  The experience of providing services in return for Government funding has not been a happy one for many small VCS organisations.

  22.  Our experience is of late decision making on the part of funders, and funding being agreed for one year at a time. This makes planning, staff retention, development and growth extremely difficult.

  23.  There is a need for central funding for small national organisations that provide specialist services to groups of offenders with specific needs. These needs cannot be met without input from such organisations. The alternative is that specialist agencies such as WIP, CAST and Clean Break expend their limited capacity building relationships with Commissioners across many regions. This is not an efficient use of our resources and expertise.

  24.  It should be possible for the Home Office and Department for Education and Skills to use the same model for long term, stable funding for strategically important NGOs as is used by the Department for International Development through their Partnership Programme Agreements.[14]

NATIONAL OFFENDER MANAGEMENT SERVICE

  25.  The design of the National Offender Management Service is disadvantageous to women in relation to increasing regionalisation and according greater service provision to those who pose greatest risk to the public.

  26.  The Government's emphasis on the risk posed by offenders in the allocation of resources, rather than need, means that women prisoners miss out on access to more intensive support from their offender manager (if they have one at all—many vulnerable women including those on remand and serving short sentences will have no statutory support from an offender manager).

  27.  The lesser risks posed by women should be used in their favour through release on temporary licence to supports opportunities for training and employment. Women's prisons should be more "porous" with more women attending college and work outside.

  28.  Women prisoners should be held in conditions appropriate to the risk they pose. At the moment (because there are only two open women's prisons for the whole estate) the security conditions under which women are held are not necessarily correlated with risk. This restricts the training and employment options open to them.

  29.  Women generally serve shorter sentences than men, and are therefore less eligible for education and skills training though their needs are at least as great: women need to start education and skills training whilst in prison, and continue this training after release within the community. The Green Paper commendably emphasised the importance of continuity of support, and of stability in key relationships. A package of intervention and support both within prison and after release is likely to be most effective.

  30.  This kind of continuity is still extremely rare, and is difficult to provide to women prisoners who are often held a long way from their resettlement area, and for whom a transfer almost inevitably means a move into another region. The system is not set up to make provision of services easy. Specialist community sector service providers can help address some of these problems, but they need the funding appropriate to enable them to do so.

WOMEN AND PRISON

  31.  There is a need to question whether prison is the most appropriate and cost-effective disposal for non-violent women offenders given the damage and disruption it causes to them, their children and their prospects for the future.

  32.  Appropriate local provision for women offenders should be developed that meets their specific needs, including needs relating to education, training and employment and reduces re-offending.

December 2006





11   From a presentation, British Society of Criminology day conference "Prisoner Resettlement: Repairing the Broken Links" 7 December 2005. Back

12   www.hmprisonservice.gov.uk/resourcecentre/prisonservicejournal/ Back

13   Draft NOMS Strategy for the Arts in the National Offender Management Service (September 2006). Back

14   PPAs are agreements between DFID and influential civil society organisations in the UK which set out at a strategic level how the two partners will work together. Strategic Funding is provided, and is linked to jointly agreed outcomes. Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 19 July 2007