Examples of 'Offenders and Nature' schemes

A range of public, charitable and voluntary organisations support 'Offenders and Nature' (O&N) initiatives. Some schemes are featured here to demonstrate the range of activities and their geographical spread, and to draw attention to their specific contexts and emphasis:

Case study 1:
Forestry Commission Peninsula Forest District – Dartmoor Prison Initiative

Offender from HMP Dartmoor working with the Forestry Commission at Dartmoor
Offender and FC staff working together
(Photo: Angel Tomney)

In January 2004 the Forestry Commission agreed to take on two prisoners for voluntary work experience as part of the HMP Dartmoor Prisoner Resettlement Programme. Dartmoor Prison at Princetown, Devon, is a category C training prison with a stage 1 and 2 Resettlement Unit. The two prisoners worked as an integral part of the Dartmoor field team participating in a wide range of practical forest management tasks. From a very early stage this proved a popular arrangement with the prisoners, HMP Dartmoor and Forestry Commission. Following this Forestry Commission England agreed to provide Stage 1 Resettlement programme opportunities incorporating a varied programme of (unpaid) work experience combined with nationally accredited training in specialist skills, particularly clearing saw work and chainsaws.

In July 2004 HMP Dartmoor secured Home Office approval to provide a Stage 2 Resettlement Programme. Along with more personal freedom inside the prison, Stage 2 offers the opportunity for participants to earn a regular ‘wage’ for work undertaken. Money earned is then retained in a dedicated account for the prisoner administered by HMP Dartmoor and only available to them on release (to break out of the viscous cycle of ‘no job’, ‘nowhere to live’ and ‘no money’).

After the first 3-year trial period (steps 1 to 4 below) which finished end of 2006, the second 3-year programme will have an additional stage (step 5) for those offenders who are interested to continue work with the Forestry Commission after release. The steps are thus:

  1. Suitable offenders selected by HMP Dartmoor Resettlement Unit.
  2. Voluntary work is completed (4 to 6 weeks) with the Dartmoor Forest Beat team and each prisoner’s suitability for further work experience assessed (Stage 1).
  3. Entry into the Stage 2 resettlement scheme – a paid work experience and skills training scheme (typically 6 months in duration).
  4. Offender released with the benefit of money in a bank account, new skills and an employment reference.
  5. An optional 3-month employment contract with the Forestry Commission is offered to ex-offenders who have satisfactorily performed during steps 1 to 3 above. This option will be available to start immediately following release.

By the end of March 2006 nine prisoners took part in the project; all of them found employment or a training position within the first six months of release and only one was accused of an offence following release but received a ‘not guilty’ verdict. An important by-product of this initiative has been the environmental benefits resulting from over 7 kilometres of streamside biodiversity improvements.

Funding for the scheme has come from Dartmoor National Park Sustainability Fund, Forest Enterprise and Devon Renaissance.

Contact: David West (Forestry Commission), tel: 01392 834205.

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Case study 2:
Forestry Commission South-East England Forest District – Winchester Prison Initiative

Offenders from HMP Winchester working on Forestry Commission land to widen one of the rides in Micheldever Wood
Widening a ride in Micheldever Wood
(Photo: Ben Phelan, Forestry Commission)

As for many other initiatives the first contact came from the prison management requesting the Forestry Commission to develop a scheme similar to the Dartmoor one (see Case study 1). The initiative took just over a year of planning and negotiations to set up and has a memorandum of understanding in operation outlining rights and responsibilities of the participating partners and financial and in kind contributions to the running of the scheme.

The first placements started in early 2006 after having recruited a well suited supervisor to be in charge of the day-to-day running of the scheme, training and mentoring the offenders, and making sure that health and safety procedures are adhered to. The original plan was to have 6 to 8 offenders who would work full-time for 6 to 12 months, receiving training to use clearing saws and chainsaws. As HMP Winchester’s resettlement unit had difficulties finding several offenders to participate in the scheme, only 2 people ended up working for 6 months, with 3 dropping out early on due to unstable health, prison policies and a drugs issue. Resettlement practices are staged and offenders are only allowed to work outside Winchester prison in their last 6 to 8 months of their custodial sentence; thus placements will generally last a maximum (rather than minimum) of 6 months.

So far only hand-held tools have been used and this was found to favour a more refined and traditional approach to forest management. In addition, links are established with Sparsholt College and BTCV to be able to offer accredited skills training (e.g. use and maintenance of chainsaws). In terms of ways of working and forest management, the use of hand tools would not be normal practice as the labour time needed for the work is cost-intensive and now usually regarded as a luxury that neither the Forestry Commission nor a contractor would provide.  Here however, it meant that with relatively little training, a lot of work could be carried out at less risk to the workers (less dangerous than chainsaws and hacksaws) and with a neater finish of the work.  The immediate appreciation by the public of the work done helped keep up the motivation.  This positive feel was also carried back into the prison (worthwhile work) and the offenders gained respect of the prison staff in terms of the effort and stamina it requires to carry out the work.

Physical and mental health benefits and enjoyment are felt to be central in O&N placements even if prisoners do not choose a career in the land-based employment sector. During their voluntary work the offenders became more confident and gained a more positive outlook. However, some carry with them a great deal of frustration and many problems, and underneath there still seem to linger issues that may prove difficult for some of the offenders once released. It is therefore important to keep paying attention to a whole range of factors, and while O&N schemes can help with many aspects, they are one among many other initiatives and programmes to aid rehabilitation.

Contact: Nick Hazlitt (Forestry Commission), email: nick.hazlitt@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

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Case study 3:
Natural England’s ‘Working with Prisoners’ Initiative

Prisoners from HMP Springhill improving a public footpath
Prisoners from HMP Springhill improving a public footpath
(Photo: English Nature)

English Nature (now Natural England) started working with prisoners in 2003. Inmates from HMP Springhill helped at Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Oxfordshire and established a tree nursery in the prison grounds. In November 2003, at Barton Hills NNR in Bedfordshire, prisoners from Springhill Open Prison at Grendon Underwood came to erect fencing in the first of a series of regular work sessions. In 2004, one prisoner worked at Aston Rowant NNR for 40 days towards an NVQ in environment conservation. Another scheme operates at the Ribble Estuary NNR working with inmates from HMP Kirkham in Lancashire on brownfield land within the prison.

Contact: Alan Pearsons (Natural England), email: alan.pearsons@naturalengland.org.uk

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Case study 4:
Prisoner Rehabilitation Initiative in North-West England

The Forestry Commission and the Government Office for the North West initiated a pilot ‘working out project’ with Haverigg Prison in Cumbria. The project delivery partners consist of Natural England, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission (North West England Forest District). Haverigg is a category C training prison and offenders carry out conservation and forest management work on different sites belonging to the initiative’s delivery partners, all within 1 hour’s travel of the prison.

Work has started to develop a strategic plan for extending this approach to other prisons in the region. To achieve this the Government Office for the North West and the Forestry Commission are currently working with several partners in the region, including the:

  • Prison Service
  • Northwest Regional Development Agency
  • National Offender Management Service
  • Probation Service
  • Healthy Settings Unit at the University of Central Lancashire
  • British Trust for Conservation Volunteers
  • Learning and Skills Council
  • ‘Innovation Means Prisons and Community Together’ (IMPACT) Project which is funded by the European Social Fund under the ‘EQUAL’ initiative.

The focus is on developing the skill base of offenders, both practical skills and personal skills, with the long-term aims of reducing re-offending and improving health and well-being.

There have been some practical problems for the prison, such as pressure on inmates (and their families) who were going out to bring back drugs for other inmates. The prison developed various ways of managing this, such as selecting individuals randomly for working teams on a daily basis from the pool of licensed prisoners. Now, a separate unit, which is totally isolated from the rest of the prison, has been built to house a dedicated team of prisoners who participate in the Offenders and Nature schemes.

Contact: Penny Oliver (Forestry Commission), email: penny.oliver@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

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Case study 5:
Forestry Commission’s Participation in ‘Project Scotland’

Galloway District of the Forestry Commission Scotland obtained funding from ‘Project Scotland’ to offer volunteer placements and training to young disadvantaged, marginalised and academically low performing young people. The scheme started in October 2005 and while not actively targeting offenders, it is open to young offenders to apply to the scheme. Recruitment and mentoring is carried out by Volunteer Centre South Ayrshire. Young people sign on as conservation volunteers for at least three months, with the option to stay for a whole year. The aim is to help youngsters gain work-based skills and qualifications to enhance, if appropriate, their chances of employability in the land-based industry sector, and more generally to increase their confidence, raise their self-esteem and help them become active citizens. In addition to learning about path creation and management, tree planting, chemical weeding, tree felling using chainsaws and similar forest and land management skills, there is also an emphasis for the young volunteers to participate in teambuilding activities such as mountain biking, playing football and paint balling.

In their first year of operation about 20 young people participated with less than 10% dropping out during the ‘taster week’. Those having successfully completed their first six months can apply for a grant of up to £1,500 for personal development (often used towards getting a driving license, and purchasing a chainsaw kit, or attending an overseas conservation camp). The first year included a wide range of personalities, but those expressing violence or involved with drugs are thrown off the project. The scheme is now in its second year, and to date has had 38 young people participate.

Contact: Lyndy Renwick (Forestry Commission), email: lyndy.renwick@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

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Case study 6:
Forestry Commission Northants District – Young Offenders and Probationers Initiative

Offenders from Young Offender Institutes and the Probation Services attend regular work groups at Rockingham Forest and Kesteven Forest working with the Forestry Commission and partners, including a coppice contractor. Forestry Commission is looking to develop the project to include mountain bike courses, anti-drugs workshops and related training facilities in joint partnership with the Northamptonshire Young Offenders Team and the wider public.  Forestry Commission staff are also looking into setting up a social training wood craft workshop and linking work with a sawmill facility to give basic skills to excluded children and other disaffected youngsters to help them into work programmes.

Forestry Commission are also in discussion with the Home Office regarding a project to have ‘hard case’ asylum seekers coming out to do conservation work on a voluntary basis.  A report was submitted to Ministers and the indication is that they would back and help fund such scheme.  It would be a pilot study for 12 months, to be offered across all districts if successful.

Contact(s):  Cheryl Joyce (Forestry Commission), email: cheryl.joyce@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

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