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Constructing with conviction

Record levels of prison overcrowding could be tackled by improving the skills and employment prospects of offenders. However, it is vital that vocational training is fully integrated with other resettlement services.

A recent review conducted by Sheffield Hallam University of a vocational training project in a South Yorkshire prison designed to help offenders gain regular work and reduce re-offending, has highlighted the need for better integration of vocational training with other resettlement services such as accommodation and addiction support.

Del Roy Fletcher, from Sheffield Hallam's Centre for Regional Economic Social Research, tracked eight male prisoners that had participated in the Construction Training in Prisons project at HMP Lindholme, funded by Yorkshire Forward and the Home Office. He found that a lack of integration with other prison-based resettlement services had led some to experience difficulties securing appropriate accommodation which has made finding regular work much more difficult.

Project director Del provided advice on the most suitable ways the Category C Doncaster prison could develop the project to maximise its potential in terms of increasing post-release employment outcomes and reducing re-offending. He said: "There is no quick fix to the problem of re-offending. Training does improve job prospects, but this isn't enough on its own to guarantee resettlement and integration back into society. Stable and sustainable work, accommodation and family support are the three key elements to successful resettlement."

According to statistics, 90% of prisoners face unemployment on release, and 60% of those re-convicted are unemployed. The facility is expected to turn these figures around. Positive examples include enabling former prisoner, John, to obtain work at a Sheffield Construction Company. His portfolio and evidence of training, along with his attitude and positive approach impressed his employers so much that he is working out of the open prison site. When he eventually returns to his hometown, John is facing a positive and productive future with a full time job, earning a regular wage and working towards a qualification.

Construction Training in Prisons at Lindholme was given a boost in 2004 following the conversion of a disused hangar sponsored by Yorkshire Forward. It teaches the disciplines of bricklaying, painting and decorating, plastering, plumbing and joinery. The vocational courses, which train prisoners to CITB and City and Guilds level, are however generating a number of additional benefits including providing purposeful activity for offenders and helping to maintain order.

Del explained: "the masculine nature of construction is appealing to prisoners; they enjoy working in the workshops and can see the benefits of using the skills in their own lives."

Del also interviewed employers in the construction industry and found that many are 'relatively enlightened and receptive to the idea of employing ex-offenders to address labour shortages'. There are, however, real concerns about criminal convictions which 'in their eyes compromise qualities like honesty and reliability'.

"We found that many employers are increasingly willing to consider non-traditional forms of labour which they would not have done ten or 15 years ago. They are attracted to the project for two key reasons. First they see it as a way addressing the corporate social responsibility agenda. Second, the project can potentially allow them to recruit from a wider pool of labour to address the sector skill shortage."

As a result of Del’s report the prison has been able to implement a number of changes to help with the resettlement of offenders. This includes additional support from Shelter to help with finding accommodation on release, and increased resources and changes to the induction process for prisoners to give more information, advice and guidance. This will highlight the issues that need to be addressed by each prisoner including learning and skills aspects linked to future career paths and successful resettlement into the community.

They have also employed a job developer. The success of this development has lead to it being trialed by other prisons and by the National Employer Panel. The job developer finds employers willing to take on ex offenders and assists both the offender and the employer through the transition to meaningful long term employment and training.

Donna Goodwin | alfa
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