HMP Parc welcomes local colleges

28 Apr 2016

On 20 April the team from PET’s Welsh Prisons Project attended a college fair at HMP Parc, in Bridgend, South Wales. We were among representatives from nine major further education colleges across South Wales who gathered to meet prisoners and to advise them of their options for study after release. It’s rare for events like these to be held inside prisons, and PET was delighted to have been invited to witness and contribute to such an innovative afternoon.

The fair was held in the prison’s library. Prisoners walked around the room, finding the table belonging to their local college and discussing what they had to offer. HMP Parc’s further education mentors were on hand to help with organising the event, and were clearly a valued source of advice and encouragement for the other prisoners, many of whom were nervous about approaching the college representatives. Some of those nearing the end of their sentences were given advice about applications and funding, while for many with longer to serve, the fair kindled ambitions to work towards as they neared release.

The PET team were on hand to discuss distance-learning options with those serving longer sentences. We were able to advise the men about qualifications they could gain while still in prison that would allow them to continue to further study in the community after their release. Many of those with whom we spoke had clear plans for their future lives, seeing distance learning in prison and further education in the community as stepping stones to their goals.

One man said he wanted to open a “really good” Caribbean restaurant in Newport, “because there aren’t any at the moment”. While his cooking skills were up to scratch, he said he was interested in learning as much about running a small business as possible. Others were at the college fair to find out about options and to seek advice about their educational journey. We met a man struggling to decide whether he should pursue qualifications in carpentry, or follow his interests and study poetry.

The fair provided an excellent venue for all prisoners, whatever their ambitions, to receive guidance and information. Its popularity amongst the residents of HMP Parc laid bare the extent to which information about educational opportunities is desired in prison. We met one young man who was due to sit his Maths GCSE exam in a few weeks’ time and was concerned a criminal conviction would be a barrier if he chose to continue his studies after release. The opportunity to meet representatives from local colleges and to be assured that there would be educational possibilities after prison clearly made an impression.

Notwithstanding the logistical difficulties inherent in running such an event in a custodial establishment, the fair was a great success. The Learning and Skills team at HMP Parc hope that the college fair, now in its second year, will become an annual fixture in the prison’s calendar, and from the enthusiasm shown by the prison learners, this is clearly something that would be welcomed.