The Ascend theme has worked in both custodial and community settings in order to develop services appropriate to the needs of BME offenders and raise awareness of their employability and resettlement needs. It has also raised awareness of the concept of diversity within both custodial and community settings.
Specific achievements and learning outcomes:
A validated positive knowledge course, entitled Routes2Roots, enables offenders to develop positive associations with their identity and an increased understanding of different cultures. This innovative course is highly transferable and could have benefits for community cohesion.
A modified and updated Portfolio of Achievement was developed through full consultation with both offenders and employers to ensure that it was meeting their needs for disclosure and employability and also demonstrating distance travelled.
A Thinking Skills for the Workplace course and Portfolio of Achievement have been subject to an informal equality impact assessment, which will now be formalised.
A highly innovative restorative justice and reparative mediation course, Prison Break, was completed by seven beneficiaries on Release on Temporary Licence (RoTL). This included a combination of unpaid community work with reparation and family mediation, alongside the achievement of a number of youth work qualifications and direct work between offenders and young people to discourage them from crime. This represented a unique intervention that has since been nationally recognised.
A significant number of beneficiaries completed vocational qualifications that they would otherwise have been unable to access, through Beneficiary Access Fund resources.
The development of both a Diversity Charter signed by 17 employers and an Employment Charter signed by 27 employers has raised awareness of the benefits of employing ex-offenders and has led to hard outcomes in terms of employment, work trials and interview practice for beneficiaries.
A series of Diversity Training Materials is are being adapted for use by organisations such as REAG.
HMYOI Thorn Cross is committed to working towards the Investors in Diversity Standard, the first custodial establishment to make such a commitment, acting as a model of good practice for other establishments in the future.
Equality Impact Assessments are provided for representatives of organisations on the IMPACT Development Partnership, enabling this to be utilised in the development of services that meet the needs of all groups.
Partnership working has taken place with a range of organisations as well as representation on key regional and national bodies working to improve equalities and diversity within the Prison Service.
Knowledge has been embedded and awareness raised amongst a wide range of stakeholders, organisations and employers of equality and diversity and the specific issues associated with the employability and resettlement of BME ex-offenders, and ex-offenders more generally.
The bottom-up approach to the development and delivery of interventions across the Ascend theme generated a sense of ownership and empowerment for beneficiaries. It ensured that the projects delivered met the actual needs of the beneficiary, rather than imagined needs that might have been derived from a prescriptive, top-down approach. The research carried out by the University of Manchester to inform the development of projects was essential in supporting this bottom-up approach with detailed evidence. This strong foundation was fundamental to the outcomes generated by Ascend for its beneficiaries.
The research behind ‘Barriers to Employment for BME Ex-Offenders’ was entirely new and addressed a gap in the academic literature, highlighting the many barriers to employment faced by BME ex-offenders. Both this and the other research projects commissioned by Ascend provide a lasting resource for criminal justice sector practitioners to draw upon in the future.
The approach taken to the development of the IMPACT Employer Engagement Strategy was also guided through a bottom-up approach and research completed by the University of Manchester. Employers were involved in the process and provided full feedback in relation to their needs if they were to employ ex-offenders. The targeting of smaller entrepreneurs was also an important and innovative component of the Strategy, as these organisations were less likely to have existing corporate social responsibility measures in place. A key learning point was the importance of ensuring findings are not overruled to avoid tensions arising.
The Employer Engagement Strategy and actions that emerged from it revealed the tensions that exist between a very structured and disciplined culture within the Prison Service and a fast-moving entrepreneurial culture in the private sector. It went some way to reconciling these cultures but further work is required to enable greater partnership working, although the project has laid the foundation for this. Similarly, the project revealed a need for greater mutual understanding between the Prison Service and community and voluntary sector organisations to promote better future partnership working. However, unless there is some incentive for them, it is difficult to engage small (BME-led) voluntary and community sector organisations with this type of project.
Ascend was extremely successful in embedding knowledge of equality and diversity, not only within the Prison Service but also within external organisations, including employers, and has been able to play a significant lobbying and dissemination role in relation to the work carried out at both regional and national levels.
The interventions developed under Ascend, while successful as individual projects, did not form a coherent package of support for a beneficiary. For example, a beneficiary on Routes2Roots may also have found interventions such as Thinking Skills for the Workplace or the Prison Break course useful, but this did not happen within the scope of the project. An important recommendation would be to trial the Case Management Model proposed in this report, which links all the interventions together and incorporates sentence planning targets.
The flexibility of the activities developed through Ascend means that teh majority of the products are highly transferable to other groups of offenders who are non-BME as well as to community groups and schools. This is a recommendation for future trials of these products. Their sustainability can also be linked to sentence planning targets for the beneficiary and Key Performance Targets (KPTs) for the establishment by incorporating them into education regimes.
Ascend took a series of products, such as the Portfolio of Achievement, and ensured their appropriateness to all BME groups. Any alterations made were ‘common sense’ issues and Equality Impact Assessments were informal, without the need for BME-specific interventions that could be deemed as discriminatory. The key finding is that the targeting of BME groups for delivery of specific interventions can increase their feelings of isolation, and the resulting recommendation is for future trials to be carried out with mixed beneficiary groups who could benefit from the products developed.
While a question remains over the need for BME-specific interventions, the key achievement of Ascend has been its impact on the institutional context in which they are delivered. The Zahid Mubarek Inquiry highlighted the problems of institutional racism that exist within the Prison Service. Research and lobbying carried out through Ascend has provided a foundation on which these issues can be addressed and which will ensure that equality of opportunity exists for offenders of all ethnic backgrounds in the future.