Kasia is a Careers Advisor based in prisons.
I started as a Careers Adviser Assistant in April 2012 and since then have worked as a Trainee Careers Adviser whilst completing my QCF Level 4 in Information, Advice and Guidance. I completed this and moved to a Careers Adviser role in 2013.
I’m now based in HMP Thameside in Thamesmead and I provide Careers advice on a one to one basis and through workshops with people in custody, both on remand and convicted.
One of my aims is to help people to use their past work and education experiences to identify their strengths and skills and then incorporating these into their future goals. I can then support them to identify steps they can take to reach their goals and ways to overcome any barriers they may face. This can help lead them to sustainable employment and therefore reduce their risk of re-offending.
I knew I wanted to work towards reducing re-offending in some form, so when I saw the advert I realised it was a nice opportunity to be able to support offenders in a positive way to make changes in their lives.
I have also worked previously to provide support to families and friends of those in custody. In this role it was possible to see the effect/impact on people closely related to offenders
On a typical working day I will start at the education induction where we introduce the service to those who are new into the establishment, offenders then have the opportunity to have a one to one session to discuss their future goals, both short term (whilst in custody) and long term (on release). Clients are also informed on how they can contact our service at a later date. The next part of the day is sent visiting the wings for one to one support and to drop off information to those I have already had contact with. We can also visit clients in classes, in the library and whilst they are working as some have very busy schedules.
We also run a few workshops. The main one is the Prison Work Selection which is run 4 times a week. The workshop helps the clients to look at employability, including LMI, disclosing and the Rehabilition of offenders act. The workshop then helps the clients relate their work skills to working whilst in custody. They then have the opportunity to put forward their preference for what work they would like to do whilst in custody.
We also provide support for classrooms, such as providing LMI and job vacancies in the preparation for work course.
There are different levels of need for clients. We are on the wings and in classes daily to see people. As the prison is remand we do not always get to see people more than once, sometimes their induction is their first and last appointment. Through the service we can see people 3 times in the year for a careers advice session but sometimes people need that extra support and will need a few more sessions. These extra sessions are not used to create action plans but to help reach goals set in previous action plans, can include providing further information, help with getting onto courses and maybe just explaining information further that they have been provided with. Generally we try to focus on seeing people when they first come into the prison and then within the 6 weeks before their release. Some clients really appreciate the support and will use the service to their full advantage.
With a number of clients you can see when they are really ready to change their lifestyle and need support in how to go about this. It is possible to see how they feel like they don’t have many options for employment due to having criminal convictions. After a session you can see them considering their different options and possibilities, showing more positivity and enthusiasm.
Sometimes people have a number of barriers such as facing homelessness or family breakdowns due to being in custody and therefore getting into work is not their priority. Those who are more successful tend to understand that they need to put in work to get somewhere, reading the information they have been given, completing courses and their CV, talking to prospective trainers and employers and applying for jobs once leaving. These people tend to understand that things won’t always happen straight away but now recognise that long term it is worth the effort.
As the prison is remand there can be difficulties with knowing how long you have to work with a client, when they go to court they may not return or then have a sentence for a number of years. Also you can be working with a convicted prisoner and when you go to see them find that they have been transferred to another establishment. With remand it’s difficult because you know they may be released but cannot make referrals to outside agencies as no release date is yet definite.
The client is provided with options for their local area and will usually include places for free employment support. They are also given information on employability, completing their CV and disclosure letter. This should leave them empowered to take their own steps in future – as we have helped them to identify the skills and strengths they have and identified how they would like to grow. Also we refer to community agencies that can provide ongoing future support.
Also there are smaller steps for the clients to achieve. For example, completing courses, writing their CV, reading through information provided to them to help inform them of their options. A lot of the time it is possible to see the motivation a client has and when in custody for a while you can see how they have developed and progressed. For example, this can range from their interest and enthusiasm in some information you have given them to completing courses and being able to move to certain job roles within the prison, such as mentoring roles.
There are 2 other full time advisers here at Thameside and 2 part time advisers who also work in HMP Isis during the week.
We meet up every other month as a team day where all advisers in London are expected to attend. We are given updates on the service and our numbers, carry out training and complete group activities where we are given the opportunity to reflect on our work, what is working well and what areas we would like to develop and feed these back to the group. During the training we also sometimes have outside agencies attend who have the opportunity to tell us about their service and the referral processes.
Internally we work with a number of organisations within the prison. For example, education is run by A4E and we support them with information, getting people onto courses and making referrals to each other. For example, if someone in the class is close to release and needs some support the teacher will usually refer them onto us to provide information on their options.
We also work closely with Catch 22, the Offender Managers. Again referrals are made between our agencies and we can provide them with information on clients we have seen and what information/ work we have done with them to help support their reports and plans.
Externally we have had a number of organisations invited into the prison, individually or through our employment fair within the prison. When the organisations come into the establishment they can provide us with information on their criteria and how to refer. A number of times these organisations have been booked to carry out an information session where they can provide the information directly to the clients. These organisations have included Crossrail, The Upper Rooms, Lambeth Working, College of North East London and the Beyond Food Foundation.
We use the internet regularly, some sites are restricted but we do have access to a number of useful ones. We are also provided with newsletters and LMI from our head office through emails. We can talk to other advisers, outside of our establishment, and send email updates to each other when we find a useful organization or contact.
At the moment there is not much through the gate work with our clients so we don’t always know how they have done long term but sometimes I have had clients who have left the establishment and called the prison to give me an update on how they are doing.
I was previously working with a client who had an NVQ L3 in personal training and wanted to work within the fitness industry. He was going to be released on tag so wasn’t sure if he could be employed in a gym. After making a few calls it was confirmed that this would be unlikely until the tag was removed. We then looked at self-employment and applied for funding. I provided the client with a business plan template and he would regularly message me when he needed further bits of research he could not carry out himself.
We also applied for funding from the Royal London Society and secured a place on the Princes Trust enterprise programme. After leaving the establishment the client has rung to let me know that he completed the enterprise programme and was working with a mentor to go over his business plan and had a few clients he was working with as self-employed.
My ideal solution would be that there were paid vacancies for everyone applying for work but realistically a lot of the clients don’t have a lot of work experience or qualifications, they sometimes have certain convictions that restrict other organisations from working with them. For example, some of the external agencies have strict policies not to work with those who have sex or arson offences. I think another difficulty is that a lot of agencies will only work with those who have been convicted whereas 75% of our clients are on remand and may not be convicted and therefore even though they have been in custody do not fit the criteria for the community support.
A piece of advice I would give to clients is that you have to start somewhere, everyone hears a no at some point in their career but it’s what you learn from this and how you can develop and grow.
To advisers I would say make the most of others around you, you can gain a lot of information from other members of staff and clients. There are a lot of organisations and charities out there and some people may have good recommendations and suggestions that you don’t yet know of.