From education to employment

Part Two of Michelle Price’s Review of the Promising Practice in Offender Educati

Rehabilitation, and in particular the prevention of re-offending, are two of the major issues currently facing Britain’s penal system.

In the past few months, the headlines have lamented a string of serious crimes committed by individuals only recently paroled from prison, bringing the competency of the penal system, and its so-called “correctional facility”, in to doubt. Any projects that therefore seek to minimise this danger by fostering positive social qualities among offenders can only be applauded.

Promising Practice in Offender Education and Training, a project commissioned by the Offenders” Learning and Skills Unit at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), aims to do just this. Managed by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) in partnership with the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), it affords women prisoners and young offenders the opportunity to grow their employment skills and self-esteem through group work initiatives, which have since been transformed into a report of case studies issued by the LSDA.

Bullwood Hall Dances to Positive Tune

Among the case studies cited is a three-week intensive dance programme, developed at Bullwood Hall, a prison and young offenders” institution, primarily for women with a history of self-harm and drug abuse. Led by Dance United, a company experienced in working with marginalised groups and the criminal justice system, the programme is open to any offender who has the commitment and capacity to learn, rehearse and perform. For those who do not wish to perform there is opportunity for involvement through costume production in the garment workshop. Participants keep a learning diary throughout the project as evidence for key skills accreditation.

According to the report, the “project has made a huge impact on offenders” families and the prison staff”. Commenting on the programme, one parent wrote: “It has been a long time since my daughter has put effort into something constructive. I am very proud of her.” Even the cynics were disproved, says the LSDA. One prison officer who confessed to believing such projects to be a waste of time and resources on less than deserving recipients, was forced to admit: “Having known the prisoners for some time I was very surprised to see such a difference in their behaviour. They conducted themselves with confidence and captivated an audience of official visitors and their peers. They should feel proud of what they have achieved.”

The Long Term Benefits?

Despite the above testimonials, quantifying the long-term benefits of such schemes is always difficult, not least because there are numerous contingencies that stand between offenders, and their eventual release. How far, and to what extent such projects will eventually impact on participants” rehabilitation, is unknown. Furthermore, as the above officer’s comments suggest, for the average taxpayer such projects might seem an unjustifiable indulgence of the dysfunctional and anti-social at the cost of the law-abiding citizen. Nevertheless, the goal of the British penal system is by tradition and history, to restore offenders, and we cannot hope for this if we are not prepared to commit the resources.

Such projects surely demand participants to work in co-operation and partnership, to collaborate and plan, to communicate, organise and execute to a deadline. In short, they encourage all the skills demanded by the average employer. Perhaps more significantly however, they tackle the emotional problems that underlie most dysfunctional behaviour, namely low-self esteem, insecurity, and a sense of low self-worth. Schemes of this nature, which bring pleasure to others, demonstrate the benefits of long-term thinking, of a positive and constructive attitude, and, crucially, they offer participants the approbation of their peers and superiors.

While it would be naïve and misguided to imagine that such projects are a one-stop-shop to rehabilitative success, the case studies certainly suggest they are a step in the right direction.

Michelle Price

Read Michelle Price’s summary of the research project right here by clicking here!

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