Memorandum submitted by the Prison Reform
"Education is an important factor in reducing
re-offending. The work we are doing in our prisons to rehabilitate,
educate and prepare offenders for their return to society is critical
in providing them with an alternative to crime" DfES/PLSU,
Prison Reform Trust's submission highlights
these key points:
The poor levels of attainment realised by many
prisoners is well documented and yet just under a third of the
prison population is attending education classes at any one time.
(Braggins J and Talbot J, 2003) Recent research is helping to
clarify that poor educational skills are not just about a lack
of education, although the effects of school exclusion and non-attendance
should not be underestimated, but is also due to many prisoners
experiencing learning difficulties and learning disabilities.
In his report, The Incidence of Hidden Disabilities
in the Prison Population (2005), Rack suggests that 20% of
the prison population has some form of hidden disability
that "will affect and undermine their performance in education
and work settings". Further research reported in the July
2006 edition of Community Care suggests that up to 7% of the prison
population is learning disabled and a further 23% of prisoners
While initial screening of prisoners at reception
into prison or during induction may highlight problems, such testing
is not systematic (Murphy et al, 2000) nor are the tools
used specific enough to identify learning disabilities or learning
difficulties (Williams and Atthill, 2005). If prisoners' learning
difficulties and learning disabilities are not properly identified
then it is less likely that the most appropriate support will
be put in place and their ability to access a range of activities
and programmes across the prison will be reduced.
Systematic screening and diagnostic
assessments should be undertaken and education staff should be
trained to undertake such screening and assessment.
Prisoners with learning difficulties
and learning disabilities should receive additional support from
Special Education Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos), not just in relation
to education classes but also to assist them in accessing the
rest of the prison regime.
More places should be made available
for prisoner educationsee also "A whole prison approach
"There is a mismatch between literacy demands
of the programmes and the skill level of offenders. This was particularly
significant in speaking and listening skills" (Home Office
Findings 233, 2004).
The report goes on to make a number of recommendations
including the need for literacy support and assessment and adapting
training materials to make them accessible for the participants.
Offending behaviour and other programmes for
example, substance misuse, are generally accessible for people
with an IQ of 80 or more. Offenders with literacy skills below
Level 1 will struggle to cope. There is an adapted sex offender
treatment programme for prisoners with an IQ below 80 but this
is not readily available across the prison estate and other behaviour
programmes have not been adapted in the same way.
For reasons of health and safety, being able
to read is often a pre-requsite for being allocated a job in prison.
Prison regimes should be made accessible
for all prisoners regardless of educational attainment or ability.
This is in keeping with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination
Act and the duty of equivalence placed on prisons. Support to
make this happen is readily available from a range of statutory
and voluntary organizations, for example the Valuing People Support
Team, MENCAP, the National Autistic Society, the Disability Rights
Commission and Dyslexia Action.
The Prison Service must ensure that
prisoners, unable to progress their sentence due to ineligibility
to engage in offending behaviour programmes, should not be held
in custody for longer periods than more able prisoners who can
undertake such programmes. This form of disadvantage would breach
not only the Disability Discrimination Act but also the Human
3. A WHOLE PRISON
For many prisoners previous experience of "education"
will have been an unhappy one. Persuading them back into the classroom
will not be easy. The length of waiting lists for vocational courses
in prison speaks volumes. Prisoners will often see the value of
a practical qualification they can use on release, feel less intimidated
by the "non-classroom" environment while at the same
time their literacy and numeracy skills increase "by stealth".
"The cut of 50% in recent years in the provision
for training in the construction trades reported by the Government's
Social Exclusion Unit seems nothing short of perverse." (Ron
Opportunities for learning do not begin and
end in the classroom and, especially for those prisoners who actively
want to avoid "education" should be pursued. The following
recommendations are taken from the report, "Wings of Learning:
the role of the prison officer in supporting prisoner education"
(Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, 2005)
A whole prison approach should be
adopted towards encouraging and supporting education and training
for both prisoners and staff. Learning should not be compartmentalised,
beginning and ending with teachers in the classroom. Learning
should be part of a continuum in which prisoners, education staff,
officers and relevant others are involved in working towards a
The broad range of learning opportunities
available to prisoners both through formal curriculum and informally
through a variety of activities and officer interventions, should
be clarified and properly identified within a single prison learning
Despite improvements made by DfES working with
the Prison Service, many of the concerns raised in PRT's oral
evidence to the Committee remain. It is fair to say that most
prisons struggle to provide enough constructive activity.
Prison overcrowding, and the damaging "churn"
from one overcrowded establishment to another, has worsened with
the result that it is increasingly difficult for prisoners to
complete education and training courses. Currently sentenced young
men serve an average of just 10 days at Feltham prior to transfer
to Castington or Hollesley Bay. PRT's advice and information service
has also received complaints about missing files and the poor
transfer of information between prisons. Only limited use has
been made of the prisoner learning passports whereby prisoners
could carry their own records. Prisoners' pay differentials between
learning and skills and work also continue to act as a disincentive.
PRT remains concerned about the low level of
prison officer training and its short duration (eight weeks).
This, and the continuing movement of governing governors, reduces
stability and makes it difficult to create a learning environment.
Government must act across departments
to reserve prison for serious and violent offenders. If this were
achieved resources would be released to develop more effective
regimes for those who should be in custody.
A review of prisoners' education
from the prisoner's perspective should be undertaken, identifying
blocks to learning and local and national solutions, following
the PRT review in 2003.
Examples of peer support work and
mentoring by prisoners should be disseminated and built on.
1. Time to Learn: Prisoners Views on Prison
Education, Prison Reform Trust, Julia Braggins and Jenny Talbot,
2. The Incidence of Hidden Disabilities
in the Prison Population, The Dyslexia Institute, Dr John Rack,
3. An introduction to learning difficulties
and disabilities in prison, Prison Reform Trust, Judith Williams
and Catherine Atthill, 2005 (unpublished).
4. An evaluation of the literacy demands
of general offending behaviour programmes, Home Office Findings
233, Karen Davies et al, 2004.
5. Wings of Learning: the role of the prison
officer in supporting prisoner education, Centre for Crime and
Justice Studies, Julia Braggins and Jenny Talbot, 2005.
16 Including dyslexia and related specific learning
difficulties such as dyspraxia and dyscalculia, attention deficit
disorder and the milder end of the autism spectrum. Back