When it's a crime to improve your CV

Officers at Northallerton Remand Centre believe they have heard the best excuse yet from an ex-prisoner landing back in the clink within months of release.

"I didn't manage to finish my CV before I was released," he said, offering what has been hailed as a prize-winning variation on the time-honoured phrase "society is to blame".

Whether a complete CV will stop him reoffending within a few months of his next release, only time will tell. But it does illustrate the emphasis the centre is increasingly giving to careers guidance.

At Northallerton, about half of the 300 inmates are on remand and the remainder are serving short sentences for petty theft and other non-violent offences.

Since January, prisoners with less than two months of their sentence to serve have been able to attend a job club to improve their chances of finding work after being released. Remand prisoners who are expected to walk free following imminent court hearings can also join the sessions which include drawing up CVs, watching videos of job interviews and a one-to-one session with a careers adviser.

All the inmates of the old Victorian prison are male and aged 15 to 21. Few have any qualifications and many were excluded from school before they were convicted and have never had a steady job.

"The biggest problem is getting them to recognise their skills," said job club worker Colin Cowie. "Too many have low self-esteem and believe the only thing they are capable of doing is burglary."

The job club, which was set up with a grant of nearly Pounds 1,000 from York and North Yorkshire Guidance Services, is held in a converted woodwork room and includes computers and a wide range of careers literature, including college prospectuses.

Northallerton is one of four prisons in Yorkshire where the education contract is held by Airedale and Wharfedale College. All provide some form of careers guidance, but Northallerton is the only one with a job club linked to classes.

Pat Furness, the prison's education manager, said staff tried to link job club activities to the core curriculum. "There has been a proliferation of careers guidance in prisons, but in some cases it is a separate package which is outside the remit of prison education".

Glen Smithson, who is due for release this month, has a national vocational qualification in industrial cleaning. But, he said, attending the job club had given him information about other types of work. Remand prisoner Stephen Nagy, who previously worked as a scaffolder, said: "This is the first time I have ever done a CV."

The greatest challenge is to persuade inmates to draw up an action plan which includes looking for work following their release and resisting pressure to return to crime.

Even within the job club, prisoners are wary of appearing too keen to learn about future opportunities in front of fellow inmates. "We often find them staying behind to read a book or pamphlet after the others have gone," said Colin Cowie.

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