young offenders institution is using the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme in an
attempt to cut the reoffending rate and rehabilitate young offenders on their
release from prison. Magali Robathan reports.
to Home Office figures, as many as 90 per cent of young people reoffend on
their release from prison. While young people are in prison, an obvious
opportunity exists to try to alter their behaviour and attitudes so that they
can be successfully rehabilitated into the community.
Prescoed young offenders institution in South Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh’s
award scheme is being used to provide offenders with an opportunity to achieve
something positive during their time in custody.
Harrison, physical education officer and Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme
co-ordinator, has been running the scheme with young offenders at Prescoed for
almost three years. Its objectives are to improve employment prospects,
increase self-esteem and forge links with the local community through community
work. Working in partnership with other schemes and courses run by the prison,
it provides a way of measuring and recognising offenders’ achievements.
is an open prison, and its population is made up of male young offenders and
adults; mostly low-risk offenders serving short- to medium-term sentences, with
a smaller population of longer term prisoners who have moved to Prescoed near
the end of their sentences. There are currently 20 young offenders at the prison.
of the advantages of the Duke of Edinburgh award is that it can fit in with the
courses and activities already being run by prisons. As Harrison points out:
"Most of the lads are doing three quarters of the award anyway. I always
tell them they might as well get the recognition for it."
their arrival at Prescoed, inmates of a suitable age are targeted and told
about the award. If they are interested, they will be invited to talk about it
in more depth, and if they decide to participate will be given an induction
pack and a record book. Participants work towards a bronze, silver or gold
award through taking part in activities in four sections: service, skills,
expeditions and physical recreation.
the service section, participants are put in touch with the community liaison
officer who will then set up community projects and monitor their attendance
and progress. Any community work that inmates are already carrying out can be
counted towards the award. Many of the courses offered by the prison can also
be used for the skills and physical education sections.
currently on the award programme are learning skills ranging from life-saving
and football coaching to cookery and computing. Recent community projects have
included teaching disabled people to swim and gardening for local schools.
scheme is funded by the prison, but costs are low. No extra staffing is needed
as Harrison runs it alongside his physical education programme, and he is not
paid extra for his involvement. The cost of registering each participant and
providing them with an entrance pack and record book is £9.50, which is met by
Prescoed, and Harrison estimates running the award costs the prison £150 a
the biggest expense would be equipment for expeditions – when participants
spend at least two days and one night camping and walking in the wilderness in
order to encourage teamwork and a sense of adventure – but Harrison explains
that Prescoed has always been an outdoor centre and already had most of the
benefits for offenders taking part in the award are varied. First, it improves
their self esteem. Young offenders often come from a culture where their
achievements are not rewarded, and simply having official recognition for their
hard work gives them a confidence boost and a more positive awareness of their
abilities and self-worth. Second, it gives them motivation.
award involves a lot of hard work and completing any of the sections gives them
confidence in their abilities to persevere with things in other areas of their
lives," says Harrison. "One of the participants recently told me that
before doing the award he never had the willpower to finish tasks. Now he says
he is more determined to see things through, because he knows that he
fact that offenders are responsible for their progress through the award is an
important aspect of the course. Participation is entirely voluntary – although
those on parole sentences are told that it can help to prove they are trying to
change their offending behaviour – and the activities are chosen by
participants and carried out in their own time.
don’t push them into the award," says Harrison. "I will encourage
them but at the end of the day it’s up to them. If they choose to take part,
then it is their responsibility to complete the various sections. That gives
them some element of control over their lives in prison."
important aspect of the award is the fact that it improves employment
prospects. Harrison is adamant that taking part in the scheme helps offenders
find employment: "To achieve any of the award takes a lot of motivation,
and that is very important for employers. It also demonstrates reliability,
commitment, decision-making and the ability to work as part of a team. We tell
the lads that if you sat two people down in front of an employer with identical
qualifications, and one of them had done the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, it
could certainly swing the balance in his favour."
adds that participants may choose to learn or improve skills for the workplace,
and offenders at Prescoed have completed courses ranging from computer literacy
to dairy farming, which may help them in their search for work.
the introduction of the scheme at Prescoed in November 1997, 25 young offenders
have taken part and 15 of these have gained bronze awards, with a further six
gaining sectional certificates. Harrison is wary of saying that the award can
directly lower reoffending rates, but he says it does encourage participants to
take control over their lives, and can influence the way they perceive
problem is that when offenders leave prison they invariably go back to the same
environment," he explains. "They are surrounded by the same lifestyle
and friends that may have caused them to offend in the first place. It is a
vicious circle and the only solution to the problem of reoffending is to try
and find a way to break that."
offenders will find ways to break the circle on their own, but schemes such as
the award can give them a push in the right direction. "It can influence a
person mentally and make him realise there is more to life than what he has
been doing. One of our lads works with local disabled people. He sees people
that aren’t as well off as him, and I think it makes him realise that life
isn’t so bad and perhaps he should sort himself out."
present, it is difficult to estimate the number of participants in the award
who have reoffended, but Prescoed has started to link up with the probation
service so that the offenders’ progress can be monitored when they leave the
prison, and they can be encouraged to continue with the award after their
admits that the award is not right for every prisoner, and as it is voluntary,
many will simply choose not to do it. However, he says, it has been a success
at Prescoed and the young men he has worked with have all enjoyed taking part.
would definitely recommend it to other prisons," he says. "It is very
highly thought of and raises the profile of the establishment in the local
community, as well as being great in terms of outside governing bodies. It’s
basically brownie points all round."
Project: Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
History: The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was set up in 1956 and has been used
with young offenders in selected prisons throughout the UK since its
introduction. A working group was set up 18 months ago consisting of people
from the award, the prison service and young offenders institutions, to examine
how the award might be developed within custody. Out of the working group came
the idea for The Award Working in Custody, a manual aiming to offer people
working in custodial establishments practical advice on how to operate the
award. It will soon be distributed to prisons throughout the UK.
Funding: Provided by the prison itself, and it is estimated that running the
award costs Prescoed young offenders institution £150 a year. Some
establishments may be able to get funding from the Prince’s Trust.
Staff: The physical education officer and Duke of Edinburgh co-ordinator, Mark
Harrison, with support from the community liaison officer and other prison
Clients: Any young offender under the age of 25 may take part in the award.
Participation is entirely voluntary.
Contact: For more information or a copy of The Award Working in Custody,
contact Karen Heenan, development officer, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award,
Gulliver House, Madeira Walk, Windsor, Berkshire SL4 1EU. Tel: 01753 727400.