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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 April 2006, 00:52 GMT 01:52 UK
New skills give inmates hope
By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

prisoner learning to be a mechanic
Prisoners study for 18 months to reach diploma level 3
A car mechanics course at a young offenders institution has led to a dramatic fall in the number of inmates who re-offend.

Over 100 young offenders have taken part in the diploma-based course in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and of the 50 to 60 who have since been released, only two have re-offended.

National re-offending rates indicate that 78% of young prisoners (aged 18 to 21) will be reconvicted within two years of their release, so the prison is understandably proud.

If I can stop one of these guys from offending again. . . I've achieved a goal
Richard Govan, vocational co-ordinator

The car workshop at Aylesbury was fully fitted out by the Toyota car company eight years ago

The prison estimates the company has spent just under half a million pounds on cars, tools, training equipment and course books.

For Richard Govan, vocational co-ordinator at the prison and a teacher on the scheme, the money has been crucial in ensuring the success of the 18-month diploma programme.

training equipment
The offenders learn on fully up to date equipment

"We wouldn't be anywhere without this investment. The investment from Toyota has brought us up to date and we have all the latest material," he said.

The inmates work towards a Level 3 diploma from the Institute of the Motor Industry and the equivalent of one A-level - a considerable achievement for a prison where the average academic learning age of offenders is just eight.

Psychometric testing

Before being selected for a place on the course, the youngsters have to prove their enthusiasm and show some sort of aptitude for mechanics.

They sit two psychometric tests, which assess their capacity for numbers, size awareness and shape recognition

Tutors examine their behavioural track history and carry out one-to-one interviews

I've been given a second chance and I want to take hold of it
Robert, young offender

Daniel has been on the course since January

"It's hard, you have to listen, you have to focus, you have to pass exams, you have to do work when you go back to your room," he said.

Daniel first got a taste for the motor industry while on work experience as a schoolboy. Now he hopes to pursue a career in the industry upon his release from prison.

"It's something I find interesting, some thing I'm good at," he said.

Robert's interest in engines and gearboxes also goes back to his early teenage years - at 16 he bought his first motorcycle and set about changing the engine from a 50cc to a 70cc.

He is now nearing the end of the course and hopes to take up employment in a garage.

"The work we're doing will really help in future employment. I'm happy I've had the chance to do this course while in prison," he said.

Robert hopes to gain employment as a mechanic

"I'm sorting myself out now - this is an opportunity for me to make a life, I've been given a second chance and I want to take hold of it. "

Reducing crime

Mr Govan says his aim is to prevent another member of the public becoming the victim of crime

"If I can stop one of these guys from offending again and prevent another victim, as well as the knock-on effect to families, then I've achieved a goal. "

Having worked previously as a teacher and then as a service manager for Lamborghini and Ferrari, Mr Govan is well placed to inspire the young offenders.

"Their behaviour improves, I get them back their self-respect and respect for others," he said.

"It's not just because we teach them, it's giving them some human skills, some manners, some discipline.

"It's the only way forward to get these people into employment, get them a worthwhile job and a future."

Reducing crime

The young offenders' institution offers a range of other courses, from computing and painting and decorating to cookery and bricklaying.

The governor believes the prison should in effect be a secure prison college, where inmates are prepared and trained for a regular life of work when they are released.

Aylesbury prison
The governor of Aylesbury says the prison should become a secure prison college

Principal prison officer at Aylesbury, Darren Owers, says he understands the common complaint from members of the public that offenders are being given preferential treatment at the taxpayers' expense.

But providing an appropriate prison education is one of the most effective ways to ensure inmates do not re-offend, he says.

"We need to do something to reduce crime, because these people are going to be released into society.

"And if we're going to do something about crime, it's best to do it while they are in custody," he said.

"We're hopefully addressing re-offending rates by making these people employable - and hopefully reducing further victims."

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