Bars boost learning

Young offenders need more help to keep progressing when they leave custody, Assembly is told. Nicola Porter reports

Teenage criminals in Wales are getting a better education behind bars than they do on release.

Evidence given to Welsh Assembly members reveals that more than 80 per cent of young offenders do better in English and maths after six months or more in prison. But their progress stalls after their release because of a lack of support for education and training.

All young offenders are supposed to have individual learning plans, organising 25 hours of education provision a week outside custody.

However, a report to Assembly members, from Edwina Hart, minister for social justice and regeneration, says Welsh youth offending teams (YOTs) has "confirmed that individual learning plans are not in place for young offenders". Staffing problems have been blamed.

The report says the gap in support will be examined in 2005-6. But Peter Clarke, children's commissioner for Wales, said it should have been made a priority.

He said: "I have spoken with a number of youngsters who say their biggest fear is not being able to get work or continue education when they leave prison."

The latest findings reinforce criticism of the education provided for young offenders in the community. Inspection agency Estyn reported earlier this year that young criminals often did not gain their first nationally recognised qualifications until they were behind bars.

Estyn's report conceded that prison teachers had a "captive audience" and young people were more likely to learn inside to relieve the boredom.

But it said more should be done by the Assembly government and the Youth Justice Board to raise achievement on the outside.

The Youth Justice Board admitted individual learning plans - seen as a way of reducing re-offending - had been slow to get off the ground. It blamed staffing problems.

A spokesperson said: "Individual learning plans developed with the co-operation of young people set out their needs, learning styles, basic skills and how it is proposed that these needs will be met - whether in prison or out in the community."

Learning plans for young offenders aged 11 to 25 was a major target of the All Wales Youth Offending Strategy launched in July 2004, and YOTs were tasked with taking the lead.

In her progress report to Assembly members on the strategy, Ms Hart said:

"There have been many positive developments in this area, though it is recognised there remains much scope for further action."

Linda Summers, YOT education officer at Neath Port Talbot council, said the task was easier said than done, especially as many of the young people were held in English prisons.

She said: "These young people leave prison and they are vulnerable. They feel alienated and have to work much harder to catch up educationally.

"There is still more work to be done, but some really innovative schemes are starting to make things happen for them."

The YJB, with the Assembly government, also has plans in place to keep track of young offenders once they leave prison.

By law, all young people in custody should receive at least 15 hours'

education a week and the YJB expects 80 per cent to return to full time education, training or employment.

Figures released in the Estyn report reveal only 62.7 per cent did so in 2002-3. In the same year, there were 385 school-age children from Wales living in secure accommodation.


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