SKILLS for lifelong learning will be top of the agenda for prisoners in the North-East when HMP Durham becomes the country's first community prison.

It will change from a high security prison to a community prison, in a pilot scheme to help prisoners serving shorter sentences return to society successfully.

The prison will provide training and support for prisoners to raise their confidence and self-esteem, improve their chances of finding a job and discourage them from re-offending.

Head of learning and skills at HMP Durham Kevin Straughan said: "We are looking at learning and skills development for prisoners to help take them seamlessly from custody back into the community and ensure we've brought about a fundamental change in attitude and behaviour.

"One of the many reasons we were chosen is, unlike others we are a city-based prison.

"We are close to partner organisations both geographically and in a relationship sense, therefore it was felt the scheme could progress faster here than anywhere else in the country.

The scheme will focus on the Government's Skills for Life agenda, which aims to raise levels of literacy, language, numeracy and IT skills among adults. Social and parenting skills will also be addressed.

Mr Straughan added: "It's a fantastic opportunity for a flagship prison such as HMP Durham. We have dedicated staff who will be at the sharp end, making the changes happen.

"The scheme will look at the needs of the prisoner in a holistic way, but also address the needs of the community.

"HMP Durham has always had close links with its community and already works closely with training providers, however this scheme is a much more robust approach than we've ever had before."

Individually tailored learning programmes will begin while the prisoner is in custody and continue after their release.