College offers young offenders hope
A new college for young offenders in Northern Ireland offers them the chance of a more positive future, the Justice Minister has said.
David Ford hailed the opening of the new facility inside Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre in South Belfast.
The college, for young men aged 18 to 21, aims to address offending behaviour through education, vocational training, mentoring and support programmes.
Prisoners will be involved in a range of activities from Monday to Friday with a number of weekend classes also provided.
"The opening of the new Hydebank Wood College is an important milestone for prison reform in Northern Ireland," said Mr Ford.
"In 2013, more than a third of young people committed to Hydebank Wood had literacy problems and over half had numeracy difficulties. Through education and skills training the college will give more young people hope for the future and at the same time help to deliver a safer community in Northern Ireland.
"This unique college environment will support, stretch and challenge young adults, and help them to develop their skills and employability, address their offending behaviour so they can make a positive contribution to their community after release."
The development of a college at Hydebank Wood was among recommendations in a major review of the Prison Service.
It will operate as a campus with structured timetabling and free flow movement.
Mr Ford said, when appropriate, offenders will also be considered for risk-assessed external work placements to further support their community reintegration.
Prison Service director-general Sue McAllister said: "This is a huge step forward for our entire Prison Service. Addressing offending by young people requires a different approach and the new college will provide that.
"Its emphasis will be on building numeracy and literacy skills and delivering recognised qualifications.
"Finding meaningful employment after release is critically important for rehabilitation and the college can play a huge role in that.
"Finally, I would like to thank the governor, Austin Treacy, and everyone at Hydebank Wood for delivering the college."