Education is the engine of rehabilitation, providing people in prison with skills, qualifications and attributes that will help them unlock their potential and access employment after release. In prisons that are increasingly challenging places to live, education can provide a vital lifeline, offering hope and purpose and improving wellbeing. Accessing education has been proved to reduce re-offending; making our society safer and more productive.
Research by the Ministry of Justice's Data Lab has found PET funding has a positive impact on people's lives after prison. Compared to prisoners of similar backgrounds and sentence lengths, they found that PET learners are:
- 25% less likely to reoffend in the first year after release
- 26% more likely to be in employment in the first year after release
The benefits of prison education goes beyond this: learning has a positive influence on individuals, our prisons, and our society.
1. The individual
"If you have something to lose, why would you commit more crime? Just accessing education gives you a sense of pride and justice - you feel as though someone has given you a chance."
- Ben - mechanic, former prisoner
- 24% of adult prisoners report having been in care at some point in their lives – compared to an estimated 2% of the general population.
- 42% of adult prisoners report having been permanently excluded from school.
- A larger proportion of prisoners were assessed on reception as having English and Maths at entry level 1-3 (equivalent to expected primary school levels of attainment) than Level 1 and 2 combined (GCSE level).
- Nearly one third of prisoners self-identified on initial assessment as having a learning difficulty and/or disability.
Education builds the skills needed to find employment, but also has other significant benefits.
With the help of our learners, former learners and prison staff, the Prisoner Learning Alliance's (PLA) Theory of Change for Prison Education established five main benefits of prison education, as below:
"Focus minds on something that will ultimately benefit the entire community and we will see people in prison wanting to achieve something good. We’ll see people leaving prisons with a goal in life - a reason to stay out of prison. What is more, we will see the transformation of prisons themselves. We will have more focussed places- ones in which people are kinder and more constructive."
Prisons in England and Wales are increasingly overcrowded and understaffed, with alarming levels of violence and self-harm. But education can make prisons safer places by creating a positive, learning culture and offering hope and purpose. Ultimately, education lowers the reoffending rates which means fewer people returning to prison, helping to free up our prison system to be places of meaningful rehabilitation.
On behalf of the Prisoner Learning Alliance, PET produced a guide for governors as they prepare to take ownership of education budgets, helping them to source the education that will improve their prisons. Read about it.
3. Our society
"Gaining this award gives me chance to be a role model - there are very few of these in my community, particularly not from the background I come from. One of the reasons why I wanted to give up a life of crime was to leave a legacy other than ex-offender to my children and family. I’ve always been a taker but now I’m a giver."
- Frank Harris, BEM - charity worker, former prisoner
Reoffending costs £1.5 billion a year, and extracts a deeper human cost.
Education gives people the tools to build crime-free life after release, and also gives them the aspirations to do so. Those who have received funding from PET are 25% less likely to reoffend. Many leave prisons determined to meaningfully contribute to their communities by working to help others, thereby breaking future cycles of crime.
For example, PET's alumni network is a community of people who are using their experience and expertise to positively shape the future lives of prisoners. One member is Frank Harris BEM, quoted above, who received funding from PET in prison and went on to be recognised on the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to his local community.