In a guest blog, Susan Easton, Lead on Offender Learning, Learning & Work Institute, casts an eye over CentreForum’s Transforming Rehabilitation? Prison Education: analysis and options.
Almost one in two prisoners go on to reoffend within a year of release. The figure is even higher for those with sentences of less than one year. Prison might work for the period that offenders are inside – but it’s not working beyond that. Prisons have become revolving door institutions, with reoffending costing the taxpayer £13bn per year, offenders given insufficient opportunities to turn their lives around, and creating new victims of crime. It is clear that we need to take a radical approach to improving prison education.
CentreForum’s excellent “Transforming rehabilitation?” report comes at an important time, with Government’s increased focus on reforming prison education, with the Prime Minister and Justice Secretary giving very public views on their support for reform, and as we await recommendations from Dame Sally Coates’s ongoing review into this critical area of policy.
The report provides an incisive summary of the challenges to be faced if we are to address the serious decline in access to learning for offenders and the quality of education provided.
We wholly support the core recommendation from the report, that prisons should collect a minimum data set of rehabilitation outcomes for education and employment, including employment and learning status on release and six months after, and these should be published and collated nationally to support performance management and quality improvement. This chimes closely with a core announcement made by the Prime Minister last month, where he indicated that Government will develop meaningful metrics around reducing reoffending, employment outcomes and improvements in literacy and key skills. Getting the measures right is crucial, otherwise it’s easy to incentivise the wrong behaviours.
The second major recommendation in the Report was to give Governors responsibility for education provision, which is also closely aligned to the reforms announced by the Prime Minister in February, which drew on the findings of Coates. Governors will be given greater freedoms and flexibilities, and control over budgets and providers. This is certainly a good idea in principle, however, we would want a clear accountability framework to be established, to ensure rigour and standards are applied equally across the prison estate.
We wholly support CentreForum’s call for greater emphasis on providing employment outcomes. Again, this chimes with Government’s plans to ensure prison education has a greater focus on job outcomes beyond the gate. This is the sort of approach Learning & Work Institute has called for, so we welcome it. Indeed we have recently launched our “Language for Change” programme, testing ways of delivering English for Speakers of Other Languages alongside numeracy, financial and health capabilities to reduce language barriers to rehabilitation.
Their fourth recommendation called for greater flexibility to enable prisoners to pursue higher level qualifications, where this is clearly linked with improved employment outcomes. We made a similar recommendation in our evidence to the Coates Review. We know from our own analysis that 41% of prisoners don’t engage in prison education due to lack of availability of higher level learning, – closing this gap is critical.
I would like to use my guest blogger’s privilege to add a further complimentary recommendation for consideration. Whilst prison staff are generally ‘the key holders’ to prisoner participation in learning, our analysis shows that many staff members themselves had negative experiences of education and do not have a strong track record in learning. This can have a negative impact on prisoners’ access and engagement with learning. Building a learning culture across the prison estate will be critical to the success of the Government’s reforms. Governors therefore have a critical role to play in ensuring that access is reinforced consistently across the whole prison regime by providing staff with learning opportunities.
This is such a critical topic, and one that’s been neglected for too long by policy makers – we are therefore delighted to endorse CentreForum’s report. This provides a blueprint for Government to help establish a radical approach where providers and prison governors can work to deliver the support we know will help reduce reoffending.