The Learning Prison

Published: Feb 2010

Rachel O'Brien - RSA

The Learning Prison report acknowledges that advances in prison learning and skills have been made in recent years but argues that further significant improvements require a “common sense” approach based on evidence and reason, not opinion.

It concludes that politicians need to be braver about treating prisons as a core public service requiring modernisation consistent with other areas. This includes: giving practitioners and prisoners a stronger voice and enabling them to drive innovation; raising aspiration for prisoner outcomes and increasing the use of ICT.

In Prison Education, many of the significant advances that have been made have been achieved "by stealth" - without corresponding public discourse. We need leadership from policymakers and practitioners in building a public conversation about prisons as a core public service that serves us all, not just the victims and perpetrators of crime.

We believe that rehabilitation is both too difficult and too important to leave prisons always ‘behind the curve’. A brave strategy on modernisation should ensure that the prison service is able to use best new tools and thinking. Most notably, we argue that there are huge gains to be had in developing a technology strategy that balances risk and benefits in a better way.

We argue for greater user engagement - though we don’t underestimate the difficulties of such an approach in prisons. Effective and appropriate participation of users in the delivery and design of prison services will deliver greater efficiency and complement rehabilitation programmes aimed at building skills and increasing personal responsibility.

Fair and transparent public services are most likely to emerge through a process of wider community participation. This means creating reasoned debate, but just as importantly it also means forging local partnerships with employers and others, and enabling direct public involvement wherever possible.