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The CHASE Programme has been running for three years at HMP Prescoed, the open prison in Usk, offering qualifications which links serving prisoners with a pathway to work in the drugs support field.

CHASE, which stands for ‘to Collectively Heighten Awareness of Substance-misuse through Education’, supports qualifications like NVQ Level 3 Working in the Substance Misuse Field, Teacher Training and a Level 3 in Psychology. It links prisoners with placements at drug agencies across Wales.

Neville Brooks 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 personal resilience.”

Seventy-three prisoners have taken part in the 18-week programme, it has a 90% retention rate and only two prisoners have returned to custody. Many have secured work within the substance misuse field, are volunteering alongside full-time work or are in higher education.

“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, 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.”

One of the first participants progressed through several qualifications, he now has a university degree and is a full-time drugs support worker. During his sentence he volunteered with the drug and alcohol service, Kaleidoscope and this continued after his release. He says, “Education was key to keeping me sane in prison. The CHASE programme 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.” Two years later, he completed an Open University degree course he began while on remand and is now a full-time active treatment worker for a Drug and Alcohol Service.

Dr Stephanie Perrett, lead nurse for Health and Justice, at Public Health Wales who nominated the programme said, “This 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 programme 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.”