Prison educators celebrated by students behind bars

15 Sep 2016

Prisoners across the country have nominated the teachers, librarians, officers and peer mentors who have made a real difference to education in jail.

The Prisoner Learning Alliance awards, held on 16 September in Cardiff, celebrated people who go the extra mile to engage and inspire prisoners, often while working in extremely challenging circumstances. All nominations came from prisoners themselves.

Below is a slideshow of the winners, each of which features a quote from their nomination letter. 

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Jo Stevens, MP for Cardiff Central and Shadow Prisons Minister, joined the PLA to present the awards. 

One winner - Aleta Blackall, was recognised as an “Outstanding Teacher” for her work at HMP Ford, where she specialises in basic literacy and does a great deal of work with Gypsy and Traveller prisoners, encouraging them to engage with education.

Aleta said:

“I’ve been teaching prison education for 13 years, and after all this time I still get a lump in my throat when a non-reader reads their first book or someone finally writes their name after struggling to spell it.

“These men, young and old, start in class feeling they are there under duress, not engaging. Then, slowly, they become these wonderful, confident learners who engage and achieve, and you know that this person will have a better future upon release.”

Aleta was one of 22 winners, from prison officers to prisoners working as peer advisors. The PLA received over 200 nomination letters from people in custody.

Prisoners praised different staff members for their “cheerful disposition and sense of humour” their “commitment” and their “blend of steely professionalism with personal encouragement and care”.

One prisoner at Eastwood Park's women prison, nominated prison teacher Ian Rampton. Ian runs a soap-making course alongside other lessons.

She wrote:

"I feel he has really helped build my self confidence and really lifted my mood as he consistently praises you, always encourages you and believes in you no matter what.

"Thanks to Ian I now know I can do things and that I am not worthless. I now have plans for the future when I leave prison. I never thought I would look at setting up my own business but I'm really looking forward to it."

Nina Champion, Head of Policy at Prisoners’ Education Trust, organised the awards, which are in their second year.

She said:

“We were overwhelmed not only by the number of nomination letters we received, but by the heartfelt messages of gratitude within them. Our winners work tirelessly, often in difficult settings. The awards celebrate their achievements and remind us that even in the most adverse circumstances, education has the power to change lives.” 

Jo Stevens, Shadow Prisons Minister and MP for Cardiff Central, presented the awards.

She said:

“Being able to recognise the achievements of people in prison is a great privilege. Prisoner education is a critical part of every prisoner’s rehabilitation journey. It provides a chance to re-enter society with new or improved skills, to find employment and the opportunity to lead a fulfilling, law abiding life after sentence.”

The awards were part of the Annual PLA conference, which saw over 150 sector experts gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities of proposed reforms to prison education.

The conference was also supported by Prisons Minister Sam Gdiyah. He said:

 “Education is key to helping prisoners turn their lives around and in particular to securing employment which we know reduces reoffending. 

"We want prisons to be places of hard work and high ambition, with incentives for prisoners to learn. Which is why I want to congratulate all those involved in this year’s awards who have offered support, advice and provided prisoners with this opportunity.” 

The conference was kindly hosted by Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Full list of winners

Outstanding Teacher; Young People’s Estate

  1. Emily Dewar Landridge, Feltham Young Offenders Institute, London 
  2. Sangeetha Navendren, Feltham Young Offenders Institute, London 

Outstanding Teacher; Adult Estate

  1. Aleta Blackall, HMP Ford, Sussex
  2. Mickie Griffiths, HMP Littlehey, Cambridgeshire
  3. Cheryl Penn, HMP Usk, Bridgend
  4. Ian Rampton, HMP Eastwood Park Women’s Prison, Gloucestershire.
  5. Vilma Smith-Yates, HMP Wymott, Lancashire.
  6. Sue Kane, HMP Low Newton Women’s prison 

Outstanding Officer 

  1. Trevor Latham, HMP Parc, Bridgend
  2. Trudy Sketchley, HMP Swaleside
  3. Emma Crow, Offender Supervisor specialist officer, HMP Frankland 

Outstanding Individual

  1. Vicky Dickeson and Valerie Samual, librarians, HMP Swansea
  2. Pierro Izzolino, St Giles Trust Coordinator, HMP Huntercombe
  3. Michaela Taylor, Learning and Skills Manager, HMP Warren Hill
  4. Dr Ruth Armstrong and Dr Amy Ludlow, Cambridge University and founders of ‘Learning Together’ 

Outstanding Peer Mentor

  1. Habib, HMP Swaleside, Kent 
  2. Paul, HMP Rochester, Kent 
  3. Tien, HMP Huntercombe, Oxfordshire
  4. Nicholas, HMP Parc, Bridgend
  5. Samuel, HMP Thameside, London (now released)

For more information on the conference or awards, including case studies and photos, please contact Media Manager Katy Oglethorpe on katy@prisonerseducation.org.uk / 020 3752 5676 / 0791 2161 536

Editor's Notes

‘The Future of Prison Education. Personalised and Peer-Enabled Approaches’, is the third annual PLA conference, held at Cardiff Metropolitan University on 16 September. See a full agenda and details here.

The Prisoner Learning Alliance was formed in 2012 by the charity Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) 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. For the full list of members see here.

Since 1989, PET has supported prisoners to engage in rehabilitation through learning. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for over 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 shows that prisoners helped by PET reoffend 6 to 8 percentage points less than a matched control group. Analysis by Pro Bono Economics 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.