Open letter tells Chris Grayling to get smart about rehabilitation reform

9 Dec 2013

Today 17 organisations have signed an open letter to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, asking him to put education at the centre of his rehabilitation reforms ahead of a new report Smart Rehabilitation which highlights the benefits of doing so to reduce crime and make prisons safer.

In their letter to Mr Grayling, the members of the Prisoner Learning Alliance, write: “We are writing to express our concern that proposed changes to the prison system and probation services may not succeed in turning prisoners away from crime unless a broad vision of learning is made central to these plans.

”The PLA is concerned that the Government’s new ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms will not reduce reoffending, which costs up to £13bn per year, unless prisoners are given help with a broad range of learning, training and skills activities and predicts the changes will cause “major upheaval”.

Most prisoners have low levels of education; 47% of prisoners say they have no qualifications compared to 15% of the UK population and 41% of men, 30% of women and 52% of young offenders were permanently excluded from school.The Prisoner Learning Alliance invites the Secretary of State to read their first report Smart Rehabilitation which is being launched in Parliament on 9 December 2013 and attendees will hear from speakers including Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons who says:

“For many prisoners education is the key that unlocks the gate.”

The report highlights the falling standards of prison education recently published in the HMIP’s annual report, along with increasing numbers of prisoners being locked up in their cell and a rise in incidents of violence and self harm in adult male prisons.

In their letter, the PLA adds: “Learning in prison works. We see it first hand every day in our organisations working with learners in prison, it is backed up by the research and most powerfully, by the people who use education as their route out of offending.”

PLA members PET and St Giles Trust have both supported Frank Harris, who was excluded from school as a teenager and then spent most of his adult life in and out of prison before education inspired him to change his fate. He gained his first GCSEs in prison in his early 40s. Before this, Frank didn’t know how to write a letter or have a proper social conversation.

Frank says: “I didn’t think education was going to lead to a job, I just wanted to empower myself – the job was secondary. It allowed me to be my own man and grow and develop. The upshot of it has been I haven’t been back to prison.”

Since leaving prison seven years ago, he has been committed to giving back to society by working with the police, charities and communities to mentor young people at risk of getting involved in crime.  He is now completing a degree and says learning has helped him become a better father and support his children to succeed at school.

The letter concludes: “We urge the MoJ to be smart in its approach to 'Transforming Rehabilitation' and work across the many different government departments and contracts to ensure that people like Frank can continue to break the cycle of offending through learning. We would like assurance that protecting, developing and improving education in prison will be a central objective as the reforms are designed and implemented. Only then will the government be able to achieve its objectives of reducing reoffending, leading to fewer victims of crime, safer communities and long-term savings to the public purse.”

Editor's Notes

Interviews are available with spokespeople from each organisation and ex-prisoners. For further information please contact Susannah Henty, Media Manager, Prisoners' Education Trust,; 020 8648 7760

About the PLA

The Prisoners Learning Alliance (PLA) brings 17 organisations together to improve learning in prison. The group was established by the charity Prisoners' Education Trust (PET) in November 2012.