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The Cascade Foundations work in HM Prisons

Jackie Hewitt-Main founded the Cascade Foundation and has worked both in and out of prisons to tackle the disability that is dyslexia. Her system was extensively tried and tested in HMP Doncaster during the Payment by results programme. In the words of the Governor, Jon Biggin, is was very successful.

CR        What learning difficulties did you find manifested itself most frequently?

JH-M    Dyslexia was the biggest then ADHD followed by head injuries.

CR        Having worked your system in prisons, what evidence have you got that it works?

JH-M    The first evidence is that very difficult prisoners become calmer. That’s when the officers see that they can work, talk and engage with these prisoners for the first time. The assaults rates at Chelmsford Prison went down five fold. Vicky Blakeman, the Prison Governor, was telling everyone how the whole prison was calmer. They seemed to know that this was happening for the 2 ½ years I was there.

CR        While you were there, what impact did it have on the reading ages and academic achievement? And how did you measure it?


JH-M    We assessed them when they first came in and on average in one month they were catching up a year’s reading and writing. One case came in with a reading age of four. Within twelve weeks he was working on Level 1. He started on Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry 3, and obtaining three qualifications. He’s now working on Level 1 which is about the age of a 12 year old.

CR        What were you doing that’s different to the other educators?

JH        The first thing I do is assess people. In normal prison education they were not assessing until the fourth or fifth week. By then the learner has often given up, frustrated and left the course. I carry out a 13 hour Cascade, Personal and Social Development assessment when they arrive on the course. It is about assessing their disability, and finding out how they learn, and if they do have characteristics of dyslexia or ADHD we explain and work with them. We then look how to make them feel better about themselves, which is where we use Nuro Linguistic Programming. We design and implement a complete programme for their particular issues, so it’s easier for them to understand and respond positively.

CR        At the end of the 2 ½ years at Chelmsford, what results did you have to show people?

JH-M    The assaults were down and ten had passed their PETLs and had gone on to work in the community. Two of those people eventually came up to Doncaster to work with us helping other inmates.

CR        What has been achieved by the Cascade Foundation since you left Chelmsford?

JH-M    Unfortunately I became ill for four years however during that time I mentored 30 men. Firstly with letter writing, through Facebook. Of those 30 men only one went back inside. Six years on, of the other 29 not one of them have gone back inside.

In the last two years I have worked in Doncaster. I interviewed 2014 prisoners. I found again that 53% of the prison population had learning difficulties. The diagnoses were the same with dyslexia being the most common, followed by ADHD and head injuries.

At Doncaster me have achieved multiple qualifications, 168 went through and passed the whole programme. We had three men start at Entry 1 and who got up to Level 3 Essay Writing. We had 95 who came on my learning coach course in order to work with others. 42 subsequently worked with me delivering the course in the prison. We also had a 3% reoffending rate from the guys who completed the course after their time in prison.

CR        If someone said to you that they liked your system and wanted you to bring it into their prison, what do you bring with you? And how much does it cost?

JH-M    I can bring in people and resources to deliver the programme but not the finances.

I will teach the teachers and these teachers teach others. It costs around £100,000 for a year. However for that we’ll do the lot. We’ll train the mentors, work on the wings. Just let me start and show you what I can do.

CR        What results can you bring the prison for the £100,000, what facilities do you need when you go into a prison and how long is it until you start getting results?

JH-M    First of all is the drop in violence. The mentors will be working on the wings with the new guys. We can show the staff how to help these people as a lot of them do not know how to work with someone with a learning difficulty.  It took 2 ½ weeks in Doncaster to show results. Facilities depend on what is needed. If it’s to set up small classes I will need a room to do it in. We can also work with prisoners who are going out the gate. We can do training for the induction, wings, staff and management.

CR        Could the system and process function without you?

JH-M    Yes, this is because its results come from the training I do so that others can implement the course.

CR        If you were doing a pitch today, what would you advise the prison?

JH-M     I want to go in there, sort out the people with learning difficulties, help them with their violence, and help their staff.

CR        Thanks for speaking to Custodial Review!


Independent Evaluation of The Cascade Foundation at HMP Doncaster

This is the preface of a report commissioned into the work of the Cascade Foundation. The full report can be viewed on line at www.thecascadefoundation.org

This report was prepared for The Cascade Foundation, which teaches and supports men with hidden disabilities at HMP Doncaster. The organisation’s mission is: Supporting and educating offenders, ex-offenders, those at risk of offending and others with dyslexia-related learning difficulties.

Cascade commissioned Social Justice Solutions Ltd. (SJS) to undertake a short, retrospective evaluation study of the first 12 months of operations at HMP Doncaster. Previously, the Foundation had provided similar services for men imprisoned at HMP Chelmsford. This new service at Doncaster was at the invitation of the then Prison Director (Governor), John Biggin OBE who had been greatly impressed with the way the Foundation worked and the results they had achieved.

This evaluation study aims to understand what the project is trying to achieve, examine how it operates, identify the outcomes it produces and discover the impact it has on those it engages in learning. In a short space of time this work would not have been possible without the support of many individuals. Most importantly, SJS wishes to acknowledge and thank all the learners and volunteers for their time and contributions. I would also like to thank Jackie Hewitt-Main (Director of the Cascade Foundation), Colin Nugent (Head Tutor) and Phil Aldis (Post-Release Support Worker) for the considerable efforts made in facilitating interviews/observations and collating data. Additional support from Cascade volunteers, Scott Harper and Kevin O’Rourke, ensured our week in the prison was productive. Our thanks also go to senior managers and staff across several departments in the prison who willingly gave their time to the evaluation and contributed their views.

Finally, we would like to thank Jacquie Buttriss, The Cascade Foundation’s Chair of Trustees who responded in detail to every request, clarification and explanation we sought. This piece of work was limited in time and scope but SJS hopes that results from this evaluation report will provide the evidence needed to strengthen the project.

Independent Evaluation of The Cascade Foundation at HMP Doncaster

We hope that The Cascade Foundation is able to extend their support further, to  other people in custody, many of whom will have struggled with learning since early childhood.

The study was made possible with the full co-operation of Serco managers and staff at HMP Doncaster and on behalf of Social Justice Solutions, I wish to thank all who contributed for their time and support.


Jackie Lowthian, Director, Social Justice Solutions

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