PET Annual Lecture: Introducing our speakers

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Prison leaders from around the globe tell us a little more about what they will be speaking about at the PET Annual Lecture on 4 June. | 25 May 2018

25 May 2018

As governors in England take greater control of education budgets, what can global examples teach us?
At this year’s Annual Lecture, visionary prison leaders from Denmark, the US and the UK share their perspectives on how a learning culture can blossom in the toughest environments.

Here they tell us a little more about what they will be speaking about on the night.

In California, Rosemary Ndoh rose to become Warden of Avenal State Prison after beginning her career as a prison teacher. She has brought both expertise and contagious enthusiasm for learning to the fore of her work with the 4,200 prisoners at Avenal – leading with the motto, “Today’s inmate is tomorrow’s neighbour.”

Basic educational skills are the springboard to self-discovery and intrinsic change.

What will you be focusing on in your talk at the PET Annual Lecture?

The importance of the correctional officer in the rehabilitation process.

How central is education to prison rehabilitation in the US?

Education is so central – there is no rehabilitation without education. Basic educational skills are the springboard to self-discovery and intrinsic change.

How has your experience as a prison teacher informed your work now as Warden of Avenal State Prison?

As a teacher I wanted to make a difference. My goal was not only to teach but to restore the humanity in my student through self-love. The prison is one large school. I apply the same principle in my daily leadership work:I want my staff to know that their contributions are valued.

How important are staff in developing a rehabilitative culture?

Without staff there will be no rehabilitation. I have found that the correctional officer is the most important person in the rehabilitative process. If they do not trust the process they will not be accommodating of the teachers, doctors, psychologists and all other professionals who provide rehabilitative programmes in the prisons.

As they start the process of taking greater control of education budgets, what’s the most important lesson for governors in England to take away from your work?

I want them to know that every life matters and every life is worth saving. In order to accomplish this mission, the correctional officer must become an important stakeholder and the, “What is in it for me” clause must be clearly articulated.

Since joining the Prison Service in 1992 after serving in the Army, Gov. Will Styles has worked in eight English prisons and governed three. He has recently completed a Masters at the University of Cambridge. He says choosing the subject of ‘Hope for Category A Prisoners’ for his Thesis taught him a lot about the relationship between education and hope.

We see education in a broader sense, as a positive learning experience threading through everything that goes on in a prison.

What will you be focusing on in your talk at the PET Annual Lecture?

I will be talking about the things that can impact on learning cultures in prisons – the importance of creating hope, the value of trust, and the role that other factors such as the quality of environment can play.

How important is education in developing a rehabilitative culture?

As governors, we need to think about whether we see education as something that is delivered in a few Vocational Training workshops, or if we see education in a broader sense, as a positive learning experience threading through everything that goes on in a prison.

It is very difficult to see how hope, change and progression could be built and sustained throughout a whole prison without education. For me it is an essential element in developing a rehabilitative culture.

You’ve worked in the Prison Service since the early nineties – how has the role of education in prison changed over that time?

What hasn’t changed is the fantastic nature of the people working in education departments. Back then though across prisons I think education was seen more as a ‘bums on seats’ activity, something to occupy prisoners and get them out of their rooms. We now have a really strong focus on how education and learning is relevant to employability and helping people to change.

I think in our drive to link education and learning to employability, we have at times underestimated some of the other benefits of education, as a space where prisoners can rebuild confidence, relationships, self-esteem and engagement. I hope we don’t ever lose sight of the transformational impact that arts-based activities can have in prisons – they are a valuable gateway to new ways of approaching life and the more formal learning activities that some people might lack the confidence to initially engage in.

You’ve written about the relationship between education and hope – how can governors and prison staff create hopeful environments?

To really build hope in a prison, it needs to start at the top. Governors need to have a vision of what their prison will look like at its best and to be able to tenaciously see beyond their current operational pressures. We have to hold on to the belief that our prison can be better, and ‘infect’ others with that belief. When front-line staff believe they are working to make a better prison, a place really has potential. I feel really optimistic that HMPPS is heading towards a more hopeful, rehabilitative and learning focused future.

As Director-General of Denmark’s Prison and Probation service, multi-award winning William Rentzmann helped shape a system which leads by example in terms of its progressive ‘normalization’ approach to prison and rehabilitation. His article, ‘The Noble Art of Governing Prisons’, draws on his extensive 40-year career in highlighting the significant role of staff in developing a rehabilitative culture.

Both staff and prisoners have to be included in developing a motivating daily life in prison

What will you be focusing on in your talk at the PET Annual Lecture?

I will focus on two essential ways of fertilising the soil for education (and rehabilitation) in prisons: normalization and co-creation i.e. inclusion of staff and prisoners in the development of a motivating daily life in prison.

How central is education to prison rehabilitation in Denmark?

As part of the normalization principle prisoners have the same right to education as citizens in society at large. Prisoners are paid the same wage for studying as for work in the prison workshops. Recently a number of special education wings have been established in a number of prisons.

Can you tell us a little bit about the ‘normalization’ approach – what does it mean and what makes it work in prisons?

Normalization means that life in prison shall approximate as closely as possible the positive aspects of life in community as it is stated in The European Prison Rules. The problems arise when we look into the practical implications of this principle. I will elaborate on this in my lecture.

Is successful rehabilitation possible anywhere in the world?

You can find specific and successful programmes all over the world. But the art of governing prisons is to establish a prison environment which in itself supports rehabilitation and makes this a normal part of daily prison life.

As they start the process of taking greater control of education budgets, what’s the most important lesson for governors in England to take away from your work?

The development of a professional education department in prison and employment of high-quality teachers is of course a priority. But in my experience it is crucial not to limit the efforts to developing activities in the classrooms. The efforts must inextricably be linked with the overall task of running a well-functioning prison based on active participation of both staff and prisoners.

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