Cisco Systems is working with the UK government on a pilot program to train prison inmates in information and communications technology (ICT) skills.

The company has helped the government's Offenders Learning and Skills Unit to establish "prison ICT academies" in 11 prisons, a spokesman for the Home Office said.

"The program is at limited establishments at the moment, but we are looking to extend the prison ICT academies as a way of reducing re-offending once inmates have served their sentences and reenter the community," the Home Office spokesman said.

Prisons taking part in the program include Bristol, Chelmsford, HMP Ford and Kirkham. There are 900 students currently enrolled in the program and they take part in six-month sessions held twice a week, the Home Office spokesman said. Cisco is currently the only company involved in the program, he added.

"The plan is that this education will lead to communication and vocational qualifications. We want prisoners to leave with more skills and be in a position to find meaningful and long-term employment," the Home Office spokesman said.

"With assistance from Cisco, workshops are written by prison teams and take in local issues as well as community feedback in regards to local business needs and plans," he said

The project is part of the company's philanthropic activity through its Networking Academy Program, according to Cisco spokeswoman Perveen Akhtar.

Cisco's Networking Academy Program is currently offered across the US and in 145 countries, in locations such as high schools, technical schools, colleges, universities and community-based organisations, according to the company's website.

Cisco trains the Cisco Academy Training Centers (CATCs), the CATCs train regional academies and the regional academies train the local academy instructors who then work to educate students.

When the Networking Academy Program was established in October 1997, its goal was to prepare students for the Cisco Certified Network Associate and Cisco Certified Network Professional degrees, the company said.

The program has since expanded, with the help of partners, to offer other courses, such as: "Fundamentals of web design," sponsored by Adobe; "IT Essentials: PC Hardware and Software," and "IT Essentials: Network Operating Systems" sponsored by HP; "Fundamentals of Voice and Data Cabling," sponsored by Panduit; and "Fundamentals of UNIX and Fundamentals of Java," sponsored by Sun Microsystems.