Part 4: Education, training, and employment opportunities for offenders

Department of Corrections: Managing offenders to reduce reoffending.

In this Part, we discuss:

  • the Department's increased priority for offender education and training; and
  • the work that the Department is doing to increase offenders' work skills.

Summary of our findings

The Department has prepared a new strategy for education and training that will double the number of education programmes available to offenders. The Department's education and training programmes are National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) or National Qualifications Framework (NQF) recognised.

We identified a gap between strategy and practice. In particular, prison staff and offenders were often not aware of what education and training options were available. The Department plans to have a Pathway Support Officer at each prison. The Pathway Support Officer will work with case managers and offenders to ensure that offenders have access to education and training programmes that meet their needs.

Offenders who find stable employment after leaving prison are less likely to reoffend in the 12 months after their release. To increase offenders' work skills, the Department is piloting working prisons that match their work streams and trade training to the local job market. A working prison means that offenders have a 40-hour structured week. This includes being engaged in rehabilitation programmes, education or training programmes, employment opportunities (such as release to work), or structured physical activity (that is, physical exercise).

An increased priority on education and training

Studies highlight the importance of literacy and numeracy skills, particularly numeracy skills, in better educational, employment, and economic outcomes. Up to 90% of offenders have low literacy skills, and 80% have low numeracy skills. By comparison, about 43% of New Zealand adults have low literacy or numeracy skills.

The Department's 2011/12 expenditure review found that education in prisons was operating without a clear strategy. It highlighted the need for an overall strategy with clear ownership and connectivity between the education and training programmes. In response, the Department created a new education group in its organisational structure and, in February 2013, released a new training and education strategy.

Under the reducing reoffending programme, the number of education programmes will double. There are four types of education programmes:

  • youth education, with a focus on NCEA;
  • foundation learning programmes;
  • trade and industry training qualifications that lead to nationally recognised pre-trade and trade qualifications within the NQF; and
  • self-directed secondary and tertiary studies.

The Department is now offering short intensive programmes for prisoners on remand or short sentences who were previously ineligible for support. These include literacy and numeracy training and work-ready courses, which teach workplace skills such as communication, financial literacy, and computer skills.

Youth education

Under the Act, the Department is required to provide all offenders in prison up to the age of 19 years with a free education. About 400 offenders are aged between 15 and 19 years, with most of them 17 years old or older. Young offenders are likely to have low educational attainment and a history of failure in the classroom. The Department has set up youth units to keep 16- and 17-year-olds separate from older offenders. The units also have some 18- and 19-year-olds who are deemed too vulnerable to be put with older offenders. The youth units run a basic education programme and also teach foundation skills (basic literacy and numeracy). The units also provide skills-based learning, such as budgeting, interview skills, finding accommodation, how to talk to people, and cooking.

The Department introduced a new programme that uses movies to support literacy. The Audio-Visual Achievement in Literacy, Language and Learning programme works by getting students to "read-watch" movies. They watch movies in English and read English subtitles at the same time. Research shows that the programme has been especially successful for low-progress students. An initial evaluation from Christchurch Men's Prison showed promise, and the Department is introducing the programme to other youth units at Rimutaka, Hawke's Bay, and Waikeria prisons.

Adult education

An important mechanism for addressing adult literacy and numeracy is embedding literacy and numeracy education in foundation-level vocational courses. We saw a couple of examples. The facilitator for the Housing for Humanity workshop showed how a course to teach building skills taught offenders literacy and numeracy skills. Similarly, the whakairo (Māori carving) workshop, as well as teaching carving and Māori values, also helps teach literacy and numeracy skills.

We visited a Māori focus unit that also teaches foundation courses. One offender told us that the courses taught him "writing, spelling, and numbers and percentages". He was now writing to, and drawing cartoons for, his children. He explained that he had never done that before.

Improving awareness of education and training opportunities

When we visited prisons in April and May 2013, it was still early days for the education and training strategy, and we could see a gap between strategy and practice. In particular, it was unclear what kinds of education and training opportunities were available. For example, several offenders told us that they wanted to continue their studies or training to a higher level than they thought possible. One female offender told us that she wanted to do Level 4 training in horticulture because she thought this would significantly help her employment prospects. She needed only 20 more points. However, she did not think this was possible because she would need to either attend the course at a polytechnic or have more access to a computer.

Other offenders told us similar stories. In these instances, the programme facilitators were not aware of further opportunities and were unable to provide advice.

The Regional Commissioner, who was accompanying us, pointed out to the offenders that, under the reducing reoffending programme, further study might be possible. She explained that the offenders would need to speak to their case officer or the prison residential manager.

These stories highlight the need for a dedicated education specialist in each region. When we spoke to the Department about this, it had already recognised this gap. The Department plans to appoint a Pathway Support Officer at each prison. The Pathway Support Officer will carry out education, training, and employment assessments with all offenders. The Pathway Support Officer will work with case managers to ensure that offenders have access to education and training programmes that meet their needs. The Department expects all staff to understand how education and pathways training fit together and has prepared a guide for frontline staff.

We consider that the Pathway Support Officer position could fill the identified gap. We expect the Pathway Support Officer to provide clarity, and extra advice and support, to frontline staff and offenders about the educational programmes and courses available.

Providing nationally recognised training opportunities

All the prisons that we visited offered trade training courses. The courses that we observed were recognised by the NQF. In general, offenders appeared proud of their qualifications: "I never thought I'd get a qualification." They told us that they appreciated the opportunity to gain qualifications and change their lives. Other offenders were surprised at how many qualifications they had when they were tallied up: "Look – I have all these qualifications now."

Also, all prisons do their own food preparation and catering and grounds maintenance, which count towards the NQF. In total, prisoners achieved 3160 NQF-recognised qualifications in 2012/13.

The programme facilitators that we talked to were all proud of their trainees and were passionate about helping them. In the distribution warehouse at Auckland Women's Prison, the facilitator had a "wall of fame" where the offenders' certificates and qualifications were hung. The facilitator told us he would "pit [his] girls against any warehouse supermarket distributor".

However, we noticed that, because they were so passionate, the facilitators often thought that the Department was not doing enough to help offenders. They had several ideas and suggestions for improvements. It seemed to us that the Department was either doing or planning to do many of these ideas, but the facilitators were not aware of this. This highlights again the role that the new Pathway Support Officer position should play. With the changes happening in education and training, it is important to keep programme facilitators up to date.

Increasing the work skills of offenders

More than 60% of offenders are unemployed when they are imprisoned. Research shows that offenders who find stable employment after leaving prison are less likely to reoffend in the 12 months after their release. For this reason, the Department is working to increase the skills and experience of offenders that will lead to jobs.

The Department is piloting three working prisons at Auckland Women's, Tongariro/Rangipo, and Rolleston. The three prisons focus their work streams and trade training programmes on the local job market. Rolleston focuses on trades and the Christchurch rebuild, Tongariro/Rangipo focuses on forestry and primary industries, and Auckland Women's has a commercial focus with a distribution warehouse.

A working prison means that offenders participate in a 40-hour structured week to replicate what it would be like to work full-time in the community. This includes being engaged in rehabilitation programmes, education or training programmes, employment opportunities, or structured physical activity.

The Department intends that all prisons will move towards the working prison model. The other prisons that we visited already recognise the importance of keeping offenders occupied. In general, offenders told us that they enjoyed doing programmes and being kept busy.

The working prison model reinforces the need for a scheduling system that will support offenders attending multiple programmes.

Fancy a flat white?

A canteen has been set up inside the construction site of the new prison being built at Wiri in South Auckland. Four offenders from Auckland Women's Prison provide on-site catering for the construction teams. Fletcher Construction, which is building the public private partnership prison, asked the prison to provide the service.
The offenders run the canteen in a work party supervised by a prison officer. Their work includes interacting with the public and handling cash. They were selected after having completed a National Certificate in Hospitality through the prison's training programme. Other offenders work in the prison kitchen to make food items to sell in the canteen.
The prison manager said that the project provided offenders with the real-life work experience that they needed to gain jobs as cafe workers:

Working on this project allows the prisoners to gain valuable job skills, which will improve their chances of gaining employment on release. We know that, by assisting prisoners to reintegrate into the community, giving them skills, and helping them find sustainable work after release, they are less likely to reoffend.

Working with employers and industry to provide real jobs

The Department is partnering with employers and industry to create relationships between offenders and prospective employers that begin in prison. This early relationship is intended to allow more offenders to leave prison with the prospect of a real job. One example of this relationship is release to work.

The Department uses release to work to help offenders get into jobs and to test whether offenders can use the skills that they have learnt from rehabilitation programmes. Offenders live in prison, but go to work each day and come back at night and are paid a wage. This gives offenders with a low security classification the opportunity to work outside the prisons in jobs that might provide employment on their release. Nearly half of the offenders maintain their jobs after release. Another advantage is that offenders are able to pay off any debts or fines that they have incurred and save money for when they are released.

We visited a work site that had two workers from Rolleston Prison on release to work and has employed offenders for the last five years. Some former offenders were offered jobs when they got out of prison, as have the two current workers. The work site manager told us that:

The guys are great, they show up every day on time, they are clean of drugs, and they work hard.

The Department described to us the "employment pathway". The pathway starts in the classroom and moves to the workshops and trade training. It then moves to a practical setting, such as a construction yard or a distribution centre, and, finally, release to work.

Christchurch rebuild – employment pathway in action

After the Canterbury earthquakes in February 2011, the Department contributed 200,000 working hours to the recovery. Since then, the Department has prepared an industry training pathway to continue its contribution to the rebuild.
The pathway identifies and matches offender training with employer demand. One large employer said to the Department: "Why are you teaching these guys residential plumbing? You should be teaching them commercial plumbing." In response, the Department worked with the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology to refine the trade training programmes.
In November 2011, three Trade Training Workshops were opened at Christchurch Men's Prison. The workshops allow more offenders to be trained each year in commercial painting, plumbing, drain laying, roofing, and automotive engineering. Offenders do a 17-week course and receive an NQF Level 2 qualification.
The Department has also built two refurbishment yards at Rolleston Prison. One of the yards is for offenders in prison, and the other is for offenders on community-based sentences. The idea of the yards came from the Spring Hill Corrections Facility, where houses are built and refurbished for Habitat for Humanity. The Department buys Housing New Zealand red zone damaged houses from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. These houses are transported to the refurbishment yards to be renovated. The refurbished houses then go back to Housing New Zealand to increase the depleted social housing stocks in the region.
The Department invites prospective employers to the yards. This means that they can meet the offenders and view the quality of work being done before offering them jobs.

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