Prison charities give top marks to education review

18 May 2016

Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) and its alliance of prison learning charities have applauded proposals outlined in the Queen’s Speech to reform education in prisons, which have already been accepted in principle by the Ministry of Justice. 

Dame Sally Coates’ review, announced today, promises to put learning “at the heart” of the prison system – giving governors greater power over education and more responsibility for each prisoner's progress; recruiting new graduates and increasing training for existing staff; and opening up the use of technology in prisons.

Alexandra Marks, Chair of the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) - of which PET is founder and member - said:

“Thousands of people are currently leaving prison without the skills or attributes to contribute positively to society. Dame Sally recognises the significant problems in the current prison education system and presents a clear-sighted vision of how to address these, with a firm focus on the needs and potential of each individual.

“Her recommendations chime with those called for by the PLA, a coalition of 23 expert organisations. The government must now show the political will and courage to implement these recommendations. With broad cross-party support, and the help of a dedicated voluntary sector, we believe this will certainly be possible.”

Rod Clark, Chief Executive, PET, said:

“There is a proven link between receiving an education in prison and being less likely to commit another crime after release. Some of Dame Sally’s recommendations may appear bold, but with the cost of re-offending at around £13 billion a year, the real financial and social risk is failing to help prisoners rehabilitate through learning while in custody.

“PET’s years of experience providing higher-level education courses for people in prison have shown us how much people in our jails want to use their time purposefully, and has demonstrated the power of education to transform lives, unlock potential, and ultimately protect society.”

Nathan Motherwell is a former prisoner who studied with PET in prison and went on to study for a degree. He now works with ex-prisoners as part of drugs and alcohol rehabilitation charity – RAPt.

Nathan said:

“I dropped out of school at 14 and spent my childhood between care homes and my young adult life between prisons. Before I started studying in my cell I had no idea I could create a different life. But education helped me - it gave me belief in myself and created a chink of hope.

"We need to start to treat prisoners as people. For me, education helped create an identity that went beyond my history. Instead of a criminal, I was a student, graduate, mentor. Now I’m a father, living a crime-free life and working to rehabilitate prisoners and former prisoners. I really believe that access to meaningful learning opportunities inside can create meaningful, crime-free lives after release.”

One of Coates’ potentially controversial recommendations is extending the provision of monitored access to ICT in prisons.

Nina Champion, Head of Policy, PET, said:

“There is currently a huge digital divide between our prisons and the rest of society, which is leaving those in custody dangerously ill-equipped to build a new life or contribute positively to society after release.

“In mainstream education, technology has become vital to the ways in which learners learn and teachers teach. With proper risk assessments and monitoring, the approaches that have become normal in our schools could also make learning more inspiring, engaging and accessible in our jails.

Rod Clark represented PET and the PLA on Dame Sally’s expert panel. The PLA submitted recommendations to the Coates review, the vast majority of which are reflected in today’s review.

We have several former prisoners, including Nathan, available for case studies and for interview.

Editor’s notes

  • For interviews, photos or further information please contact Katy Oglethorpe (PET), Media Manager: katy@prisonerseducation.org.uk; 020 3752 5676 or 0791 2161 536 or visit www.prisonerseducation.org.uk
  • Since 1989, Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) has supported prisoners to engage in rehabilitation through learning. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for approximately 2,000 people per year for distance learning courses in subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education policies.
  • A report by the MoJ last year showed that prisoners helped by Prisoners’ Education Trust support for distance learning reoffend after release 6 to 8 percentage points less than a matched control group.  Now a report by independent economists from Pro Bono Economics published today shows that it would only take a one percentage point reduction in reoffending to be the result of that support for the benefits to outweigh the costs of the investment.
  • The PLA was formed in 2012 by Prisoners’ Education Trust ‘to provide expertise and vision to inform future priorities, policies and practices relating to prison education, learning and skills’. It now brings together 23 expert organisations who work to champion learning for people in prison.
  • Dame Sally Coates' review was commissioned by Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove. It forms part of the Government's broader review of the prison sector.