PLA tells Parliament prisons need 'smart rehabilitation'

10 Nov 2014

Today (Monday 10 November) Rod Clark, Chief Executive, Prisoners’ Education Trust, will tell Parliament that people in prison are losing out on the chance to gain vital skills that could help them move away from crime when they are released.

Ahead of the Justice Select Committee’s evidence session Rod Clark said: “Over 20 prisons are running restricted regimes as a result of staff shortages. That means that prison Governors can’t get prisoners to class, workshops or careers advisors and charities like ours can’t help as many people as we would like to. That is storing up a huge problem when we know education reduces reoffending.

"To improve prisoners’ chances of rehabilitation policies must enable every prisoner to progress with quality learning, training and skills.

"In the Prisoner Learning Alliance’s report we describe how to be smarter about rehabilitation.”

Representing 18 membership organisations of the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA), Mr Clark will tell the JSC inquiry Prisons: Planning and Policies that since the most recent education contracts came into force, there has been too much of a focus on basic skills with not enough support for learners to progress.

In January 2014 the government’s Justice Data Lab results[i] showed a statistically significant impact on reoffending levels when people received support from PET to study a distance learning course. This is strong evidence that the prison service should prioritise support for a wide range of learning opportunities in prisons.

However, current barriers are preventing this from happening and in written evidence to the JSC, the PLA highlighted examples from the ground published in its report Smart Rehabilitation. A teacher said that due to staffing cuts, time out of cells was severely restricted, with prisoners having to decide between attending class or taking a shower. Subsequent HMIP and IMB reports have highlighted further examples of establishments where education is not a priority. 

These issues are having a negative affect on learners, feedback from 343 prisoners forms the basis of PET’s latest report Brain Cells: Listening to Prisoner Learners, 3rd Edition, in which many describe issues preventing them from learning, such as a lack of courses at the right level and insufficient ICT resources.

The report’s key findings were:

  • 41% said state prison education courses are not available at a high enough level
  • BAME prisoners were more likely to have prior qualifications but less likely to learn in prison
  • Women were educated to higher levels prior to prison and achieved well during their sentences but said courses were not available at high enough levels
  • The majority of 18-21 year olds gained level 2 qualifications in prison but learning dropped off by 70% when progressing to level 3 and beyond
  • 28% said they have a learning difficulty or disability (66% of them had received no support for this).
  • 58% said they have not received any support for distance learning
  • 83% said access and support for the Virtual Campus (education intranet) was poor.
  • When asked why people wanted to learn, 81% said they wanted to occupy their time usefully; 71% to gain qualifications and 70% to improve job prospects
  • 69% of respondents said learning had improved their ability to cope with prison

Editor's Notes

For interviews, photos or further information from PET please contact Susannah Henty (PET), Media Manager:; 020 8648 7760 or visit

The full list of speakers giving evidence in Monday’s Justice Select Committee inquiry is published on the Parliament website.


Ministry of Justice, Data Lab report, on Prisoners Education Trust, January 2014

Brain Cells: Listening to Prisoner Learners, 3rd Edition, September 2014.

Smart Rehabilitation: Learning how to get better outcomes, December 2013.

About PET

Since 1989, Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) has supported prisoners to engage in rehabilitation through learning. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for approximately 2,000 people per year for distance learning courses in subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education policies.

In 2012 PET launched the Prisoner Learning Alliance to work together with 18 other expert organisations to champion learning for people in prison.