Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 385 - 399)



  Chairman: Welcome to you both; thank you for joining us this afternoon.

  Q385  Julie Morgan: I wanted to start off by asking what progress has been made in meeting the needs of offenders in education and in employment in the community and in prisons since there has been this greater collaboration between the different organisations involved and since the establishment of OLASS.

  Jon Gamble: Shall I start? I think there has been significant progress across a number of different indicators. When OLASS was first mooted as a reform programme something in the region of 75% of the existing learning and skills service judged by Ofsted was deemed to be unsatisfactory. We have now turned that situation around working in partnership, so we have a situation where now 80% is deemed as satisfactory or better and in fact we have just been advised by Ofsted of the first Grade 1 inspection for learning and skills in a prison at Askham Grange Prison.

  Q386  Julie Morgan: So that is the provision is deemed satisfactory?

  Jon Gamble: Or better, yes. The quality of the learning and skills provision itself, in its delivery and in the level of outcomes reached. I can go on to talk about outcomes in terms of the way in which achievements are now being recorded. In the first year of operation we have data that supports 42,000 achievements in skills for life were recorded, of which 20,000 were actually the qualifications that count towards the PSA target. And in a raft of other qualifications in terms of IT and vocational skills there were 106,000 positive outcomes, of which 69% were approved qualifications. So in the first year of operation there were 90,000 qualifications awarded to offenders in custody. It is not so straightforward to make those same judgments in terms of the community because of the issues in terms of identifying the offender learners in the community. We certainly have taken steps to try to help self-declaration of that but it is an ongoing data issue about how we actually identify offenders serving their sentence in the community through a learning and skills programme, because as far as our providers are concerned unless they are positively referred by probation they are in fact learners. What that means is that there has been an overall achievement rate, certainly in custody, of 43%, which compares against an overall achievement rate in what we would call a mainstream setting of 66%. So when you take the cohort of learners with whom the providers are dealing, with a high incidence of learning disability, mental health issues, truancy from school, no previous qualifications, no culture of learning-that is a good, solid start. We have very little data against which to compare that but what we have started to do is to benchmark that data nationally and also then to drill down regionally and by provider and by type of prison so that we understand more about where the service is as opposed to the budget—the offender learning skills service—is having the most impact. We do know that it is having the most impact in terms of category B and C prisons and in women's prisons also.

  Q387  Julie Morgan: Can you remind us what is category B and C?

  Ian Porée: Category C is essentially a training prison. A, B, C and D are security classifications, A being the most dangerous and D being essentially someone who is ready to be in an open prison where their risk is deemed manageable, that they can actually go out during the day and they come back in the evening. So B and C are medium and then lower risk individuals and largely they are training prisons.

  Q388  Julie Morgan: Obviously in terms of having those skills their employability is increased. What about translating that into actual employment when they leave prison. Do you have any data on that?

  Jon Gamble: The Learning and Skills Council does not collect data on employment status, it collects data on outcomes of qualifications. What we can say is that the way in which the curriculum is designed supports the softer skills-the softer employability skills as well as the hard vocational skills in terms of preparing individuals for employment. I know through some of the surveys that the prison service has done, and to which Ian has already alluded, there is significant progress being made in terms of getting offenders into employment.

  Ian Porée: The current prison performance is 26.8% of people leaving the prison would go into work.

  Q389  Dr Palmer: Is that a week or is it a month?

  Ian Porée: They would be going straight into an interview or a job which is already arranged, so it would not pick up people who become self-employed or work on a more informal basis.

  Q390  Julie Morgan: Does that mean that 70% are going out without a job—not going to work?

  Ian Porée: That is correct, yes.

  Q391  Julie Morgan: So there is a long way to go.

  Mike Stewart: Could I add a slightly different perspective? One of the things I do is chair something called the European Offender Employment Forum and have done for a while, so I was involved in working with all the equal development partnerships that were working with offenders over the last two or three years. Before I say what I want to say I would preface that by saying that I have worked with colleagues from prison and the LSC for a very long time and I think where we are now compared to where we were 10 years ago things have moved on an awful lot. But what is disappointing in a way—and perhaps inevitable, I would say, in terms of the way that things were organised—is that although OLASS I think is brilliant and has moved an awful long way from where things were it is still disconnected, in my view, often within the prison system from what else is going on, and that is the feedback we are getting from the organisations that have worked on the equal programme. For the structural reasons that people have mentioned before, as people move from prison to prison taking their learning with them is incredibly difficult. Although, as I say, great strides have been made those sorts of obstructions are inherent in the system and make it very difficult from an offender perspective to get the sort of clear picture that is perhaps apparent from the top but not apparent from when you are receiving the service at a local level.

  Q392  Alun Michael: I want to ask a question about capacity—and can I say that while I am well out of date—it is over 20 years ago that I did work with young offenders and with unemployed youngsters—I do not underestimate the difficulty of giving the skills that are necessary—do you have enough information, do you have enough capacity within the criminal justice system and within the learning and skills providers to meet the learning and skills needs of offenders, firstly in the community and secondly within the custody system?

  Jon Gamble: I will start on that. In terms of capacity there are two capacity issues. There is one concerning the budget that is voted, called the OLASS budget—that currently stands at £160 million across the whole piece—but to that of course the Learning and Skills Council has at its disposal, certainly for adults approaching £4 billion of funding. So that for offenders serving their sentence in the community there is the capacity and the provider base to actually deliver more learning and skills activity to offenders serving their sentence in the community. In terms of the capacity in custody, I think it is rewarding to see that the service inherited participation rates of about 30% and they are currently running nearer to 40% so there has been a 10 percentage point increase in engagement of offenders in learning and skills.

  Q393  Chairman: That is the proportion of people in custody engaging in programmes provided for them?

  Jon Gamble: Month on month, so in any one month four out of 10 offenders in custody would engage with learning and skills. Over a 12-month period, taking stock and flow into account, it is just over 50%. There were just upward of 82,000 offenders in custody in the first year of Offender Learning And Skills Service that engaged with some form of learning and skills. So whilst it would always be good to be able to continue to increase that provision I think the capacity we have, remembering that this is just one of a number of interventions with offenders, certainly while they are in custody—

  Ian Porée: I think there would be more capacity constraints if you were talking about employments in prisons. So are there enough places where people can effectively go to work every day and in the workplace we then do vocational skills training as part of if you are working in a prison kitchen you would then be trained initially on health and safety training and eventually in industrial catering. So the availability of jobs within prisons clearly would be more of a capacity constraint than learning opportunities.

  Q394  Alun Michael: But it is actually a constraint on the learning of skills as well then?

  Ian Porée: It certainly is, yes.

  Q395  Alun Michael: Could I ask from the other side of that coin, the needs of offenders as a group of the local population—is that something that is explicitly addressed by mainstream learning and skills providers now? It was not in the past—or certainly was not always in the past. Is there a positive approach to that now?

  Jon Gamble: There is a positive approach but I would not want to mislead in saying that there were major inroads being made into that, not simply because of the resource issue—it is more to do with how we can identify offenders in the community through introduction into our mainstream providers. This is an area of partnership we are optimistic that the new configuration of NOMS will actually support bringing probation and custody together.

  Q396  Alun Michael: Why is it still difficult to make that identification?

  Jon Gamble: It is in terms of the referrals from the probation service into learning and skills provision. It has been a continual difficulty in terms of getting those referrals.

  Q397  Alun Michael: Sorry, I do not quite understand what the problem is there. Are you saying that the referrals do not get made by NOMS?

  Jon Gamble: Insufficient referrals are actually made into provision in the mainstream, in our view.

  Ian Porée: I suspect there are a number of things happening, one of which of course is that if you are an offender in the community you would probably not want to be identified as an offender to the mainstream learning provider, and then the problem we have as a system is that you would be invisible in the learning and skills world because you would essentially just be another learner receiving mainstream learning services. So the data around how many offenders are actually receiving mainstream services would certainly be skewed by declaring, "I am an offender" because in the mainstream service quite rightly the skills world would not identify you as an offender—just the justice world identifies you as an offender.

  Q398  Alun Michael: But the exchange of identification and data in a proper and managed way is absolutely crucial and I am rather surprised that you say this because this was a problem that was identified 10 years ago and sometimes issues about data instead of being solved are taken as an excuse not to share relevant information. Is there a problem here?

  Ian Porée: I think I am describing a recording of information within the skills world as opposed to sharing of information between justice and skills.

  Q399  Alun Michael: I think it would be interesting for us to have a bit more information on this issue.

  Mike Stewart: If I may, on the drug services side there are all sorts of similar issues and within the new drug strategy there is now provision for primary legislation to enable that sort of data sharing between agencies on the drugs services side for employment and learning and all the rest of it.

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