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As of August, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has assumed responsibility for offender learning throughout England in a scheme called the Offenders Learning and Skills Service (OLASS).

The LSC hopes to improve the quality and quantity of offender education. For this, the LSC has secured a £30 million grant from the European Social Fund (ESF), over a period of three years, as well as its annual £130 million funding from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Youth Justice Board.

Pilot Schemes

The North West, North East and South West regions piloted the OLASS scheme last year to great success. Now the LSC will manage planning, funding and delivery of the scheme to all nine regions. By integrating offender education within mainstream academic and vocational provision and ensuring offenders experience seamless provision in both custodial and community settings, the LSC hopes to contribute to breaking the cycle of failure that drives re-offending. The new service aims to help to drive down the re-offending rate by 10% by 2010.

Jon Gamble, Director of Lifelong Learning Development at the LSC, said: "Education and training has been proven to help reduce re-offending rates, but too many prisoners experience fragmented learning as they move between prisons or re-enter the community. Alongside a package of other support measures, including drug rehabilitation, offender behaviour programmes and assistance in finding jobs and housing, education is playing a leading role in easing ex-prisoners" reintegration into society. By providing prisoners with personalised learning plans that travel with them, we can assist more offenders back into gainful employment."

Hope "“ ing for Change

Skill Minister Phil Hope MP said: "The new offender learning system will embed high quality teaching and learning in sentence plans and help equip people with the skills they need to contribute to society and the economy. OLASS will be integrated with mainstream education to ensure offenders can continue their learning into the community. Electronic records and data on their progress will now accompany them through the system.

"The purpose of our reforms is to reduce and break the downward spiral of re-offending," continued Mr. Hope. "We must help learners" progress and meet the needs of local employers and job markets. Research indicates that OLASS in the three pilot regions is already reducing the incidence of repeat assessments. At the heart of the new service, offenders will be individually managed through their sentences to deliver positive benefits to all."

Currently, 59% of former prisoners re-offend with two years, costing the criminal justice system £65,000 up to the point of imprisonment and £37,500 a year in prison thereafter. In total, the estimated annual cost of recorded crime committed by ex-offenders is £11 billion, according to Reducing Re-offending By Ex-prisoners (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002). Other data found that 37% of offenders exit prison with a reading ability at or below level 1, according to the Offender Learning Green Paper (Dec 2005).

Paul Keely

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