Noel Smith: "There is no rehabilitation without education"

PET alumnus and journalist, Noel Smith, writes:

“I spent over three decades bouncing around the British prison system before I found my rehabilitation.  I have now been out of prison for over four years (a personal record for me) and I put it down to education.  I firmly believe that there can be no rehabilitation without education. 

Education is the key to changing lives when it comes to prisoners, and I cannot understand why it has such low priority in the prison system.  If you are in prison and you want to get educated you will find yourself at a financial disadvantage compared to those who agree to do the mind-numbing ‘work’ of private companies in the prison workshops.  The average wage for those partaking in full time education is around £7 per week; whereas spending your days fitting washers onto bolts can earn you up to £30 per week.  The message this sends to prisoners, a lot of whom have had very little, or no, education, is that education is pretty worthless, when, I believe, education should be a top priority in prisons. 

Some years ago I decided to try and enhance my chances of employment on release from prison by choosing a career in the one thing I was any good at (apart from robbing banks!) which was writing. 

I found a correspondence course on journalism and feature writing and applied to Prisoners' Education Trust for funding. 

The process was very quick and within no time I was working on something that would actually be useful to me in a future career, rather than the make-work of the prison workshops. You might think that the prison system would support and encourage those prisoners who seek to change their lives via education, but, sadly, in my experience, this is not the case.  They are quite happy to pour millions of pounds into untested and unproven tick-box offending behaviour courses that many experts claim only make people worse, but if you want funding for educational courses that might actually change your life then you have to go outside of the system.  And this is when Prisoners' Education Trust comes in. 

Without PET, I and a lot of other prisoners would still be stumbling around in the dark. Instead, I am out of prison and putting to use what I learned on that course – working as a journalist.”