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Former prisoner helps drug addicts overcome their addiction

A former prisoner convicted as part of a conspiracy to import drugs into the UK has praised an award-winning scheme that allowed him to help addicts overcome their addiction, while he was in prison.

Jeffrey Miller from Cardiff was convicted seven years ago for his part in a drugs import that saw him and two other men jailed for a total of 56 years for bringing millions of pounds worth of drugs into the UK.

Now he has a university degree and is a full-time drugs support worker – and the scheme that supported him has just won an Inspire! award.

[aoa id=”1″]The Inspire! Awards are hosted each year ahead of Adult Learners’ Week – initiatives co-ordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund. Inspire! Award winners are rewarded for demonstrating the power of learning in raising expectations, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities, and their stories will also feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, which takes place this year from June 17-23.[/aoa]

The CHASE Programme at HMP Prescoed, which took the ‘Community Project’ award, is one of 12 winners who were recognised in a ceremony at The Exchange Hotel in Cardiff last week.

CHASE, which stands for ‘to Collectively Heighten Awareness of Substance-misuse through Education’, is an educational programme designed to help prisoners prepare for work in the drugs support field. Offering qualifications like NVQ Level 3 Working in the Substance Misuse Field, teacher training and a Level 3 in Psychology, it links serving prisoners with placements at drug agencies across Wales. The programme has been running for three years at the open prison in Usk and has a 90 per cent retention rate.

Neville Brooks, of NJB Consultancy, launched the programme with deputy governor, Elfed Jones; Matthew Jones, a teacher in the prison’s education department; and Mike Thomas from Dyfodol, which provides support to people with drug and alcohol issues in South Wales.

Neville has worked in the substance misuse field for more than 20 years and designed the course, which took 18 months in the planning. He said: “The programme started with the belief that education is a key driver to reducing substance misuse. Education empowers, gives confidence and builds an individual’s personal resilience.”

Seventy three prisoners have taken part in the 18-week programme, only two of whom have returned to custody. Many have secured work within the substance misuse field, are volunteering alongside full-time work or are in higher education. The scheme, which is funded by the prison, has been recommended as a model of Good Practice by the Prison Inspectorate report and the IMB (Independent Monitoring Board) presented to the Ministry of Justice.

“There’s nothing like this in the UK – it’s a totally new approach,” said Neville, who says linking learning to real-world experience in drugs support has been crucial to its success. Setting up a network of placement opportunities was key. A lot of the men had left school 20-odd years ago or they had no education. Around 85 per cent have severe substance misuse problems. Many are unemployable when they start.

“By working with people with substance misuse issues, they start to see themselves. Usually they begin to develop an understanding of the damage their drug use has caused within the family, for example. They’re put in a position of working with someone who was them, maybe five years ago.”

Jeffrey, 61, from Caerau, served six years in custody and was one of the first learners on the pilot programme at HMP Prescoed. While in prison, Jeffrey earned qualifications including the NVQ Level 3 Working in the Substance Misuse Field and a Level Four PTLLS (now AET) teacher training. During his sentence, he also volunteered with organisations like charity drug and alcohol service, Kaleidoscope, at its methadone drug clinic, and carried on volunteering with them after being released in May 2016.

Two years later, he completed the Open University degree course he began while on remand, graduating last year he is now a full-time active treatment worker for Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service.

“Education was key to keeping me sane in prison,” said Jeffrey, a father-of-four with seven grandchildren. The CHASE program gave me an education but also real-world links to employment, that were vital when it came to my release. The people who run it understand that you can’t just throw someone onto the street with £45 in their pocket and a place at a hostel. They’re going to reoffend.”

Jeffrey supported several fellow-prisoners towards their own rehabilitation, as part of CHASE’s mentorship programme. He said: “One gentleman couldn’t read. He was a bully, was dealing in prison and very violent. I taught him to read in six months and his self-esteem went through the roof, his discipline improved and he went on to do a degree. Education saves lives and it’s the key to rehabilitation.”

Neville now wants to expand the programme, which recently began working with mental health charity, MIND, to offer a Level Four Mental Health First Aid qualification, to closed prisons in Wales, including nearby HMP Usk, HMP Cardiff, and HMP Parc in Bridgend.

He said: “I’ve spent years seeing people go through the revolving door of custody-community-custody. By motivating learners, showing them that they have a multitude of transferable skills, you can see a phenomenal impact. There’s a lot of talent within prisons – you actually have to be very self-motivated to hold down an addiction. I want to be able to pick prisoners up when they start their sentences. It begins with a spark – finding for them an interest in life outside of drugs. Then they became voracious learners and don’t want to stop.”

Dr Stephanie Perrett, lead nurse for Health and Justice at Public Health Wales, nominated the programme for an Inspire! Award. She said: “The CHASE programme is a ground-breaking initiative that we are so proud to have in Wales. It recognises the value, talent and potential that each participant has, regardless of what may have brought them into prison. The team delivers the program with a genuine desire to see this potential flourish and provide each individual with the tools and experience to support employment following release from prison.”

Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government said: “For many people the route back to learning starts in a community setting and for prisoners included in the CHASE programme it’s here, where they have started their journey to improving their lives.

“This community project illustrates the power of learning seen through the dramatic reduction in reoffending with the inmates involved in the programme.

“The team and everyone involved should be extremely proud of their achievements and we look forward to seeing how they continue with the course inspiring and helping others through adult learning.”

To find out what’s going on during Adult Learners’ Week and for personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales – the Welsh Government’s new, free service delivered by Careers Wales. Call Working Wales on 0800 028 4844, visit your local Careers centre, or search www.workingwales.gov.wales