The power to make a fresh start

21st July 2000 at 01:00
A new scheme is leading former prisoners back into training and education, reports Martin Whittaker

BEFORE he went to prison, Martin had worked as a self-employed gas-fitter. As he approached the end of his four-year sentence, he dreamed of going back to his old job and setting himself up in business with his two sons.

He wrote to all the charities he could think of - 56 of them - asking for their help, but none was forthcoming. Then he heard about a scheme which could help him get back on his feet.

He was able to go straight into a job from prison thanks to a new project which is developing better links between prison educators and further education.

Through the scheme, known as POWER - Preparing Offenders for Wider Education on Release - Martin, aged 45, was allowed to attend Filton College, near Bristol, one day a week to update his skills in the run-up to his release.

For a prisoner, the practicalities of walking into a college or attending a job interview are daunting, says the project's co-ordinator

Jacquie Rinaldi.

"They need to have their confidence built up," she said.

"If they've been in for a while they may well find that just

getting into a car and travelling can be a disorientating experience.

"And not only do they have to deal with the stress of the interviw, they also have to worry 'am I going to have enough money in my pocket to get the bus, am I going to get back in time, where am I going to find a suit?'"

POWER is led by Filton College, Bristol, and was set up and initially funded with Further Education Funding Council money. That came to an end in December, and the Prison Service is now considering funding the initiative to run it throughout the South-west.

Filton is currently working with 10 other colleges and training providers, two probation services and 11 prisons in the South-west and south Wales.

The Home Office is taking a keen interest in the scheme - the project organisers are recommending a system that would support all prisoners into education ex-offender issues.

Jimmy, a 46-year-old former inmate at Leyhill, is a coach driver by trade and he wants to become a tour guide.

Through the POWER project he has found a suitable course in Swansea. "I've done a lot of work already," he says.

"It's a 12-month course and it's very intense.

"You've got to have a basic knowledge of the arts, Government and places of interest.

"Without a scheme like this I couldn't do it."

For further information on POWER, or copies of the partnership report on the POWER Project, contact

Jacquie Rinaldi on 01454 260681,ext 324

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