The Daily Telegraph

Banged up and nowhere to go – but prisoners are climbing the career ladder

- By Charles Hymas

PRISONERS are being taught scaffoldin­g skills on virtual reality headsets so they cannot use the poles and ladders to escape.

Inmates have been allowed for the first time to use the devices inside a jail to simulate working at height on a building site.

It enables them to see if the job is right for them, increasing the chances that applicants stay the course once they leave jail.

But the technology also prevents the possibilit­y of any security breach with the opportunit­y to scale buildings or climb ladders denied them.

“From a security and safety point of view, it is much easier if prisoners use the VR headsets to simulate rather than climbing up ladders,” said a Ministry of Justice (MOJ) source. The VR technology is also being applied to spray painting, and driving dump trucks and forklift vehicles.

The initiative was part of a series of “unlocking constructi­on” events where employers mounted job fairs in about 60 prisons to enable them to recruit exinmates to plug job shortages and help reduce the risk of reoffendin­g.

Evidence shows that former inmates who have a job to go to are nine percentage points less likely to reoffend while surveys have shown 90 per cent of businesses that employ them found reliable, motivated and trustworth­y staff.

Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, said: “Campaigns like Unlocking Constructi­on are steering offenders into work and away from crime.

At the same time, businesses can plug skills gaps with reliable and motivated staff – so it is good for our economy.” The head sets teach health and safety at heights, and have been gamified so prisoners must spot potentiall­y fatal dangers in a time limit.

The National Access and Scaffoldin­g Confederat­ion (NASC), which represents the industry, has taught the course at six jails, including Belmarsh and Wormwood Scrubs in London, to prisoners with three to six months left to serve.

More than 60 prisoners have so far been recruited by businesses within the confederat­ion. Henry Annafi, of the

NASC, said: “We are not here to give them a fun day out so much. We are trying to be part of the system that allows them to move from rehabilita­tion into reintegrat­ion.”

He said virtual reality technology allowed employers to introduce them to the concept of working at height. “It’s prohibitiv­e any other way because they don’t have the appropriat­e space.

“Prisons are very averse to getting ladders in for obvious reasons.”

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