Former prisoners start third level education

By Maurice Garvey

TWO former prisoners started third level education this month in Collinstown College – something that may not have been possible were it not for the work of a probation service in Clondalkin.

The Tower Programme in Neilstown, which is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary later this month, has helped many an ex-prisoner over the years to progress to further education or gain meaningful employment.

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The Tower Programme is held in Neilstown

Initially set up to help young low-level offenders aged 18-28 being released from prison in North Clondalkin, the service in later years expanded to cover the Ballyfermot area.

Following the successful implementation of an adult pilot programme, today the age limit for service users is now simply 18 plus.

Maureen Cox, Manager at the Tower Programme, oversees a small staff team containing one fulltime project manager, a part-time project manager, two part-time psychotherapists, admin/housekeeping staff, plus a “bank” of tutors from the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education Training Board.

This tight-knit group is a key factor to gain confidence with service users, many of whom would be skeptical of authorities.

“We would be steadfast in our core values, and discretion is a big one,” said Maureen.

“People who come in here are treated as individuals. It is very confidential. Most of the staff have been here from the beginning and know the clients. We have seen changes over the years.

"Generally, people’s issues tend to be the same but we try to maintain the same ethos.”

Service users – mostly made up of males - ideally spend two years attending the programme, but provision for additional assistance is allocated in exceptional circumstances.

“Some might need a few more months if they have an exam, if they are in the process of applying to college, and Christmas can be a bad time to leave. The DLETB have been very good.”

During leaner times, the programme struggled with budget cuts to such an extent that they were forced to recycle paper.

“Funding is much more stable now,” said Maureen.

“We are quite streamlined in terms of staffing. I think during the recession we learned some things.”

Looking forward, Maureen says their outreach and literacy programmes are important outlets for service users, in helping them transition back into society.

At the 20th ceremony on September 27, a number of service users will graduate from the programme.

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