Friday, 14 November 2014

Second-chance learning: prisoners need education too!

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At NEC, second-chance learning has always been at the heart of what we do. It goes right back to why we were founded by social entrepreneur Michael Young over 50 years ago. Since then, we have been able to support adults and young people from all walks of life fit education into their lives through the flexibility of distance learning, including new parents trying to juggle family commitments with studying, members of the Armed Forces who are serving overseas, and even offenders who are serving custodial sentences in prisons.

For many years, we have worked together with the Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) in order to support this latter type of learner. During that time we have seen the huge difference education can make to offenders. But you don’t need to take our word for it – in fact, the Ministry of Justice’s own research illustrates the ability of education to reduce the chances of a prisoner re-offending after their release.

This means not only can education make a difference to the learner themselves and their prospects after release, but ultimately for all of us as the likelihood of re-offending drops.

Organisations like PET and the Howard League for Penal Reform have worked hard over the years to not only help improve the access to education for prisoners, but also to raise awareness of the need to do so. On Monday, PET’s Chief Executive, Rod Clark, highlighted to Parliament the need to support a wide range of learning opportunities in prisons. Currently, barriers such as staff shortages and a focus on basic skills are preventing this from happening.

A recent report by PET has found that:
  • 41% of respondents did not engage in education because nothing was available at a high enough level for them, and some were studying courses well below their level due to a lack of options
  • 28% of respondents had a learning difficulty or disability and 66% of them had not received support for this
  • 83% of respondents found access to, and support for, the Virtual Campus intranet to be poor, and 58% had not received support for distance learning.

However, the level of interest in education amongst prisoners despite any difficulties remains high:
  • 69% of respondents thought education had a positive impact on their ability to cope with prison
  • 81% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to occupy their time usefully
  • 71% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to gain qualifications
  • 70% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to improve their job prospects.

The difficulties faced by prisoners when they try to access education were not helped by the ban on books being sent in by loved ones, which was introduced last year. The ban unfortunately remains in place to this day, but there are signs that the importance to rehabilitation of access to books, and education in general, are finally starting to be recognised by the Government.

Last week we were delighted to hear that, after months of campaigning by the Howard League and supporters of Books For Prisoners, an urgent policy update from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has been sent to prison governors. This allows them, with immediate effect, to exercise their discretion and let prisoners have more than the previous limit of 12 books where they are below their overall volumetric control limit, ‘given the particularly important role books can play in rehabilitation.’

It is encouraging to see the vital role of books and the importance of education acknowledged in this way, and we hope to see progress continue. As Rod Clark told Parliament on Monday, prisoners need a smarter approach to rehabilitation through policies that enable them to progress. We agree that it is important they are given opportunities to learn, and to learn at a level appropriate to them, because by helping people to invest in their futures we invest not only in them, but in our wider society.

To learn more about our partner, PET, and their work with prisoners, visit their website for further information. You can also read a PDF copy of their latest report by clicking here.

To find out more about NEC, our work, and the wide range of flexible distance learning courses we offer, visit our website or get in touch. You can keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook.

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