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LSDA Calls for Further Communication Skills Training for Offenders

Communication skills training is aiding the rehabilitation of offenders and reducing the number of reconvictions, according to the findings of a new report, released today by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA).

The two-part report on communication training and cognitive skills development, commissioned by the LSDA, is the first in the UK to explore the area of recidivism. Conducted within four prisons, the research’s aim was to examine the ways in which educators and psychologists seek to foster positive thinking, learning and behavioural changes in prisons.

Looking Back

The retrospective part of the research study looked at reconviction rates of 211 ex-prisoners (195 men and 16 women) who had each undertaken English Speaking Board (ESB) oral communication courses, designed to develop confidence in presentation, thinking, reasoning and group work skills, during 1999-2002. This was then compared with a control group of 155 ex-prisoners, who undertook an education course other than ESB’s qualification, whilst serving sentences between 2001 and 2002.

The findings revealed clear signs of change and an increase in the effectiveness of ESB courses. Reconviction rates in the first year after release among a sample of ex-prisoners who had began an education course between 2001 and 2002, fell to 28%, compared to a national average of 44% for all prisoners. But the reconviction rate for those who had followed ESB course was even lower at 21%.

Oral communication courses have proved particularly beneficial for certain groups, particularly repeat offenders, those with shorter sentences, and those with a high risk of reconviction. Prisoners found the training helped them to communicate more effectively with fellow inmates and prison staff. A rating scale completed by prison officers produced high ratings for “control of temper” and “thinking before acting or speaking” as positive benefits.

A New Approach

The LSDA, which is now changing into the Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning (QIA) and the Learning and Skills Network (LSN), responsible for improving the quality education and training, has worked in conjunction with the University of Newcastle (led by David Moseley), the University of Strathclyde and the University of Sunderland on this research project.

Leading researcher, David Moseley from the University of Newcastle, commented on the findings: “There is a growing recognition that cognitive-behavioural psychology does not hold all the answers to the rehabilitation of prisoners. Indeed, there is a substantial body of evidence that education and training can help to reduce recidivism. Teachers, instructors and prison officers have also made productive use of the social power of thinking and working collaboratively in groups, especially where a “therapeutic community” has been set up.”

He continued: “Far from being a “university of crime”, educational experiences in prison can help to build character, raise self-confidence and aspirations and reduce the likelihood of re-offending. Much depends on the social influences within the prison and the extent to which prisoners feel part of a community of learners.”

Calling for Focus

As a result of the research, the LSDA is now calling for a greater focus on oral communication skills, with pilot projects being established for certain groups with a higher risk of re-offending. Speaking at the publication of the report Maggie Greenwood, LSDA’s Research Manager explained: “What came across clearly is the importance of speaking, listening, thinking and reasoning. In many cases the focus in prison education is on literacy and specific job-related skills. What this research shows is the importance of helping prisoners to become more articulate, control their anger and interact with others, focusing on the “softer” skills like emotional intelligence.”

She continued: “Research shows that many offenders have failed to develop critical reasoning skills, resulting in thinking that is too concrete and rigid. Training in oral communication helps them to develop their ability to express themselves clearly, which helps them become more tolerant towards others, less frustrated when they can”t get their views across, and more flexible in their behaviour.”

Jason Seebaruth

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