From education to employment

Report highlights problems faced by female inmates

Two thirds of women prisoners have drug, alcohol and mental health problems which can prevent them from learning new skills whilst incarcerated.

The Learning and Skills Network (LSN) has published a report funded by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), entitled “Maximising the benefits of OLASS for female offenders: an evaluation of the issues”. It investigates the provision of the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) and its application to women prisoners.

A statement released earlier this week from the LSN said: “During the early stages of their prison sentence, many female inmates are coping with mixed emotions and issues that vary from overcoming addiction to worrying about childcare. As a result they are not in the right frame of mind to learn new skills”.

Further, the report found that women prisoners, who currently make up around 6% [4,250 inmates] of the total prison population, are more likely to be held at a greater distance from home than their male counterparts, and as a result, receive fewer visits from partners, family and friends. “This can compound the problems associated with being held in custody”.

Recommendations for alternative methods include a programme of personal development for newer inmates, covering such courses as parenting, drama, and behaviour management. “People working with prisoners who were interviewed for the report say that these approaches help women offenders develop stable and settled patterns of behaviour”.

Liz Walker, Research Manager at LSN, commented on the findings: “It is critical that the funding, organisation and structure of learning activities for women prisoners reflects their capacity to learn. If we get provision right, learning can help reduce the likelihood of re-offending”.

“But if we get it wrong, we risk compounding previous bad experiences of learning”.

Vijay Pattni.

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