Letter: Six year study rule is a barrier for prisoners

Adam, a serving prisoner, writes to express his gratitude to Prisoners' Education Trust after gaining a 1st in his degree. He also highlights the disadvantages the current rules requiring prisoners to be within six years of their release date before being allowed to study an Open University course. A key recommendation of PET's new Brain Cells report (published 24 September 2014) asks government to lift time restrictions on any higher level study.

"To the Prisoners’ Education Trust,

Yesterday I received confirmation that my degree, BA/BSc Open (Hons), is complete and I have been awarded an overall First. As it was your organisation that allowed me to get started in 2008 I thought I would write and say a massive ‘thank you’. You provided the funding for me to undertake what was then called an ‘Openings’ course with the Open University. Having passed this I was able to sign up for my first Level 1 OU course and have never looked back. I will always be grateful you gave me that first chance.

On a different note, these days the funding rules stipulated by the Student Loans people require a prisoner to be within six years of potential release before they are eligible for study – a real shame. If I were starting my sentence today, I would not be allowed to study with the Open University for nine years yet. Education has been the salvation of long term prisoners for as long as there have been prisons, and in my case has played an essential part in my rehabilitation.

I have learned discipline and determination. I have learned to think objectively and critically, and gained the ability to express myself properly. My mind has been opened, my horizons broadened. Academic success has given me confidence in myself – an essential part of rehabilitating a person.

When my first chance to be paroled comes around in seven years I will be only 38, and the future now looks full of potential and opportunity. Had I been required to wait until the last bit of my sentence to study, as I would be today, I suspect it would have been too late for me. As much as education helps improve employability, it has a deeper, intrinsic value unrelated to employment. It helps to develop the human being in many and varied ways, and I feel that nobody should be denied this opportunity just because they are not within six years of release. When a prisoner is ready to grow, they should not be made to wait. I submit that if the state incarcerates a person, they have the responsibility to allow that person access to the means of self-improvement irrespective of the date of that person’s release.

I suspect your organisation appreciates this as much as any. Are you in any position to petition our government to reverse the ‘six years from release’ requirement for OU study?

Well, thank you again for supporting my first step in 2008, and giving me the chance to achieve out of all proportion to my expectations.

Yours sincerely,