Claudia Vince, about 4 years ago
According to official statistics, prisoners who are under 30 are amongst the most likely to reoffend. HMP/YOI Isis, in South East London, holds mostly young men in this age group. We spoke to the Governor of HMP/YOI Isis, Emily Thomas, about how she helps these prisoners improve their future prospects by providing education and training opportunities that teach the most sought after skills that employers look for. Emily is passionate about prison being places of learning, where men are encouraged to work hard, develop life skills and plan for the future.
Q: How do you help prisoners prepare for release and employment?
HMP/YOI Isis offers a curriculum pathway model. These consist of five pathways; Academic, Be Your Own Boss, Catering, Construction and Services. A prisoner is allocated to courses based on his desired employment pathway. This allows us to ensure that they are allocated to courses that enhance their chances of employment in their chosen field upon release. Each prisoner has a pathway plan, which is reviewed every three months. The reviews involved progress against employability skills as well as feedback from tutors. This will allow prisoners to see what areas they have improved on and what further areas require further development. In addition, prisoners will have the chance to review their CV to include what skills/qualifications they have learnt.
Q: How do you ensure prisoners are equipped with the skills that prospective employers want and need?
At the point of building our curriculum, we use the knowledge of our National Careers Service, Job Centre Work Coach and Novus Education Team to understand what the local labour market information tells us in terms of job opportunities. We then seek feedback from employers to better understand what qualifications will assist in filling these potential opportunities with our prisoners. Once we have this information, we begin to build our curriculum accordingly. We can review this at any point throughout the year, if we feel that changes are required to react to the local labour market.
Q: How does your approach differ from education schemes at other prison establishments? How do you engage with prospective employers?
The pathway models is fairly new within the prison estate and so has not yet been taken up widely, although I am sure it will be over the next few years. The introduction of the plans have ensured that HMP/YOI Isis are able to not only offer prisoners a way of monitoring their own progress, but to also allow us to evidence to employers, that our vision is to provide prisoners with all the required skills to gain employment in their chosen sector. Our pathway approach has seen us plan smaller, pathway specific employment events throughout the year. This way, we can tailor the events so that employers meet with prisoners who are definitely interested in working for them. We can also prepare prisoners more effectively for meeting prospective employers, putting them through a series of workshops in preparation. These include, CV building, interview techniques and researching the background of potential employers. The purpose of facilitating these smaller events is to ensure that employers can spend more quality time with prisoners attending. When facilitating these events, we seek feedback from all employers in attendance which has allowed us to continue to grow our employment events whilst maintaining a positive relationship with the employers.
Q: Why is it important to be innovative and progressive when developing education and training initiatives in prison?
Employers do still have reservations about employing ex-offenders and it is really important that we reach out to employers to encourage them and give them confidence. Having a criminal record is a barrier to gaining employment and so it is vital that we are always thinking of new ways to work with employers and develop the skills and employability of our prisoners. We feel that in order to prepare our prisoners for employment, it is important for us to develop our curriculum offer to reflect what initiatives are in the community. This will ensure that they are not at a disadvantage when they leave as we have provided a realistic training environment whilst in custody.
Q: Do you face any challenges in delivering the initiatives?
Restrictions on what can enter a prison can be a challenge. However, we feel that with the right planning, and discussions with training providers, we can find a way to effectively facilitate a course as planned; we are about to start delivering scaffolding training and aerial window cleaning courses! Another example of how we have overcome challenges is our Distance Learning qualifications. Due to prisoners not being able to access online materials, the awarding bodies have provided a “Walled Garden" that has restricted access and no internet links.
Q: What does the future look like for education and training at HMP Isis? How would you like to connect with more prospective employers?
We intend to continue to build our curriculum offer to ensure that it complements the local labour market and employer needs, whilst upskilling the prisoners within our care. We really want to engage directly with employers, ideally working with them to deliver specific courses designed in conjunction with the employers themselves, leading to real jobs. We hope to one day be able to draw upon a directory of organisations that work with ex offenders. This would allow us to discuss potential referral routes during the pathway plan reviews and will provide a clear end to the pathways which we offer to all the men in our establishment.