Ex-prisoner wins Adult Learners’ Award
20 Jun 2014
In its 25th anniversary year, PET is proud that one of its alumni, Junior Smart, has been selected as a regional Adult Learners’ Award winner for his achievements in higher education and at work helping hundreds of disadvantaged young Londoners.
Each year PET supports NIACE Adult Learners’ Week (14-20 June) by inspiring people in prison to consider study and nominating its alumni for their achievements.
Rod Clark, Chief Executive, PET, who nominated Junior, said:
“Junior went to prison as a gang member, but can now identify himself as a graduate, manager and consultant. It is important to recognise that many ex-prisoners like Junior want to give back to society and are working hard to improve their communities. We are extremely proud of him and are delighted that in our 25th birthday year one of our alumni has won an Adult Learners’ Award.”
At primary school Junior was told he would fail. Years later he found himself in prison facing a 10 year sentence after getting involved in a south London gang. Then with support from PET Junior decided to focus on his education and started an Open University degree in the arts.
Junior Smart, Business Relationship Manager, SOS, St Giles Trust, said:
"I’m so grateful to Prisoners' Education Trust and other organisations which supported me. I was lucky to have time with a tutor who believed in me and I was able to do a degree and get employment upon release."
After leaving prison seven years ago Junior joined the charity St Giles Trust and set up a gangs-intervention project using his experience to help young people avoid prison. Whilst holding down this demanding full-time job Junior decided to go back to university and was awarded a First Class BA honours in Youth Work.
Junior said: “Achieving a First Class Honours degree was incredibly profound for me. From that point onwards people took me more seriously and took notice of what I was saying and doing – I was no longer just someone with an opinion.”
Since then Junior has continued to further his education and is now halfway through a Master’s degree in Applied Criminology and Youth Justice at Middlesex University.
Adult Learners’ Week celebrates the transformational power of lifelong learning through activities and events. Throughout the week, Junior will join PET staff and learners to promote the benefits of studying distance learning courses in prison via National Prison Radio, which is broadcast to prisons across England.
Run by NIACE, Adult Learners’ Week demonstrates the dynamic personal, social and professional benefits of adult learning. The Festival of Learning, which takes place throughout May and June, will give individuals, families, communities and workplaces the opportunity to take part in activities and celebrate learning achievements.
This year PET celebrates its 25th anniversary. The charity was set up in HMP Wandsworth by a prison teacher in 1989 who wanted to expand the range of courses available for prisoners. That year, PET helped 12 people, now the charity supports approx. 2,000 each year to study distance learning courses across England and Wales. The charity does this by providing advice and grants to prisoners keen to study subjects and levels not generally available in prisons.
PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education. In 2012 PET launched the Prisoner Learning Alliance with 18 other expert organisations to help improve the policy and practice of prisoner learning, training and skills. St Giles Trust is a member of the PLA.
A recent report was carried out by the MoJ Justice Data Lab published in January 2014 which shows people supported by PET to study distance learning courses in prison are a quarter less likely to reoffend than a matched sample of ex-prisoners with the same characteristics.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) is an independent charity which promotes adult learning across England and Wales. Through its research, development, publications, events, outreach and advocacy activity, NIACE works to improve the quality and breadth of opportunities available for all adults so they can benefit from learning throughout their lives. Please note that on 1 January 2016 NIACE merged with the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion to form a new organisation, the Learning and Work Institute.