Prison digital print centre gives inmates job skills

Training promises to prevent re-offending
Written by Sylvia Carr, Contributor

Training promises to prevent re-offending

A prison is training inmates to use digital printing technology in and attempt to give them a better chance to stay on the straight and narrow when they finish their sentence.

High-tech came to the Standford Hill Prison, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, earlier this year with the opening of the first fully digital print centre with colour capabilities in the HM Prison Service.

Standford Hill is a category D prison, and offers a wide range of vocational training for some 460 inmates as part of an initiative to arm offenders with useful skills that will enable them to seek employment once they're released - and hopefully prevent reoffending.

Research has shown this approach can work. According to a recent report from the Learning and Skills Development Agency, prisoners who received training and education had a significantly lower recidivism rate one year after release - around 20 per cent versus the national average of 44 per cent.

When looking for new additions to the training programme, Standford Hill aims to identify industries with plenty of job opportunities and services which the prison service itself is in need of.

Mike Cresswell, industries and enterprise manager at Standford Hill Prison, explains: "We look outside first - can we get people skilled in the jobs that are around?"

He continues: "The jobs that are out there are in the latest technologies and IT. We thought, we'll try and get something going like that."

The digital realm of the printing industry by all appearances is a promising area in which to train prisoners. First, digital skills are hard to come by in the current workforce.

Ruth Exelby, head of training at the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF), says: "The printing industry definitely has both a skills gap and a skills shortage."

This is due, she says, to insufficient investment in young people coming into the industry, an ageing workforce and a lack of training on the latest digital equipment.

Exelby says: "The printing industry tends to buy a lot of new kit but don't do enough training to keep up with it."

At the same time, the HM Prison Service has a need for the quick-turnaround, colour printing that the latest digital machinery provides.

Wayne Cook, print manager for HM Prison Services, says: "We have seven conventional print centres in the prison service but we could never do short-run, full-colour work."

Print work for the prison service totals £2m in revenue each year, according to Cook. But he believes there are more print jobs out there which Standford Hill's new digital print centre, with its short lead times and colour capabilities, could fulfil.

The centre was officially opened at the end of January, after a few months of planning and installation. It features two Xerox commercial machines - the Nuvera 100 Digital Copier/Printer and the DocuColor 5252 Digital Colour Press, a specialised booklet maker from Morgana - and a handful of PCs. The prisoners design the print materials - brochures, pamphlets, business cards - with Adobe Creative Suite software. (For more on the digital print centre kit, see our photo story.)

Most of the Standford Hill print centre's work will be for the prison service, though it's possible other government departments or outside businesses will contract work with it as well.

Xerox was chosen for its reputation as a trusted vendor within the prison service, as its equipment is used in the service's seven existing print centres. This made the procurement process easy and allows for the added benefit of simple networking between print centres.

The HM Prison Service's Cook says: "If we decide in future we want to network machines between the print centre sites, it's easier with Xerox because [their machines] speak to each other."

Xerox will provide training to prison supervisors, who will in turn train the prisoners. The copier company will also offer certification to offenders once they've acquired the necessary skills and, if possible, will interview offenders for job openings within Xerox after their release.

The Standford Hill digital print centre employs two staff and nine prisoners. As production gets up to speed, prison staff hope to incorporate five additional inmates who will be in training at all times.

One of the challenges in training up prisoners is their different sentence lengths. It can take up to six months to fully train an individual on the design and printing tasks, depending on how much previous IT knowledge they have, though inmates may be at Standford Hill for anything from a few days to a few years, with the average stay being nine weeks.

Attracting prisoners to the digital print centre has not been a challenge, though, as they seem to recognise how useful the digital print skills could be to them in future.

The BPIF's Exelby says: "The inmates we've worked with are very highly motivated and interested in what they're doing - it's not like pulling teeth."

Because the Standford Hill digital print centre is so new, the ultimate goal - landing the prisoners jobs upon their release - has yet to be achieved. But with the possibility of attaining Xerox certification and even being considered for positions within the copier giant, the chances look good.

Exelby says: "[The printing industry] is conservative but the increase in awareness of corporate social responsibility means many more employers are interested in providing support for the community - and this is clearly a good way to do that."

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