INMATES are being taught scaffolding in prison — without any ladders to aid an escape.
Instead lags learn the trade on virtual reality headsets — the first time they have been allowed behind bars.
The scheme aims to get them jobs on release rather than return to crime.
The first VR headsets were used at Belmarsh jail in South East London.
They teach health and safety at heights, and have been gamified so prisoners must spot potentially-fatal dangers in a time limit.
National Access and Scaffolding Confederation has taught the course at six jails, to lags with three to six months left to serve.
Training officer Henry Annafi, who pioneered the work, said: “For some reason prisons don’t like us bringing ladders inside — so we came up with an alternative.
“The VR sets simulate being high up.
“You see these big, hard prisoners thinking it’s going to be a cakewalk then they start to get very afraid when they feel like they are 60-feet up.
“I’ve seen some embarrassing situations where grown men literally cry.”
He added: “The scheme is targeted at anybody with a conviction that is preventing them from entering the labour market.
“Construction has a good track record of giving people a second chance.”
Taxpayers pay nothing for the scheme.
It is not open to sex offenders, child abusers or arsonists — who cannot work on building sites for insurance reasons.
Prisons Minister Damian Hinds said: “Initiatives such as these have a proven track record in matching prisoners up with job vacancies.
“This helps local economies grow, plugs skills gaps and keeps the public safe — a win all round.”
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