Rod Clark's 2015 Look Ahead

16 Jan 2015

Rod Clark, Chief Executive, Prisoners' Education Trust, writes:

"This time last year I predicted that 2014 would be a year of anxiety and opportunity. It was more extreme than that. Over the past twelve months we’ve seen severe staff shortages and dangerous conditions impact negatively on education in some prisons. Reduced regimes have meant prisoners unable to get to education and with overcrowding, there have been not enough activity places for the population. Inspection report after inspection report has revealed a saddening litany of problems and just this week a report of HMP Garth found staff shortages meant most prisoners could only attend education or work for three and a half days per week.

"Over the past few months the government has repeatedly emphasised its commitment to education, with recent announcements doubling the amount of education young people receive and a new holistic women’s curriculum. At the PET annual lecture NOMS Chief Executive Michael Spurr gave a heartfelt commitment to support the needs of longer-sentenced prisoners. PET very much welcomes the sentiment behind these commitments, but PET has also expressed its concerns about the introduction of secure colleges in particular. As legislation was still going through parliament at the end of last year, the government simultaneously continued with its plans and issued a consultation on the rules. In the Prisoner Learning Alliance’s response, I expressed our concerns that the large size of the institution and distance from young people’s communities will severely compromise safety and therefore, the ability of the College to function as an effective learning environment. Just this week, a damning report on Feltham YOI identifying high levels of violence found that though education provision was good, attendance was too low and sanctions imposed for poor behaviour outside education sometimes included missing classes.

"As the government brings in a whole raft of new changes this year, we sincerely hope officials will listen to the expertise and experiences of charities and organisations working to deliver services that are really making a difference to the lives of people in prison. In spring last year we brought many of these organisations together for the PLA’s Smart Rehabilitation conference, where criminal justice and education experts together discussed the benefits of a tailored education package encompassing a broad range of subjects and styles of learning. Despite the challenges for the sector in 2014, there were highlights too. Throughout our 25th anniversary year we reflected on the many positive achievements of our learners and alumni; people who have overcome adversity and have changed their outlook on life, carved out new futures and focused on being productive citizens, both in prison and out.

"In 2015, PET’s New Year’s resolution is to build on the successes of its learners, staff and supporters over the past 25 years. Evidence shows what we do works and we hope to expand even further. Thanks to generous funding we are planning new projects for young people and women in prison and developing our new alumni network. We are also in the process of completing an ambitious project working with prisons to develop rehabilitative cultures by taking advantage of the talent prisoners possess and we look forward to evaluating the results this spring.

"In 2015 colossal changes are underway to probation and prisons. As the landscape changes with new community rehabilitation companies beginning to carve out their plans to help people leaving prison, it is our hope they will see education is one of the clear pathways to reducing reoffending and will work closely with prisons to plan individuals’ activities in custody and after release."