Sally Coates starts the recent prison education review with a key phrase, highlighting something that has been missing from the prison system until now; "Let there be no doubt. Education should be at the heart of the prison system."
The review by Dame Coates is wide ranging and extensive, but consistently highlights the need to make Education a factor throughout an offender's journey, rather than just one small facet of it. This includes giving more power, and therefore more responsibility, to Prison Govenors.
Michael Gove, Justice Secretary, said: “Prisons must do more to rehabilitate offenders. We will put governors in charge, giving them the autonomy they need to run prisons in the way they think best.
“By trusting governors to get on with the job, we can make sure prisons are places of education, work and purposeful activity. These reforms will reduce reoffending, cut crime and improve public safety.”
In order to really push the idea of shared responsibility, every prisoner will be subject to rigorous assessment on reception. This will inform a Personal Learning Plan. Prison Governors will then be held to account for the progress of each prisoner in their jail against that Personal Learning Plan, over the whole duration of their sentence. This will mean that prisons, education providers, health providers and probation services must all work together, sharing targets for employment and reoffending outcomes on release.
Dame Coates also goes into detail about the self-defeating nature of restricting offenders education to a certain level. Current funding arrangements (offenders are required to self-fund education at a certain level) that restrict access to higher level learning for prisoners, and therefore block their educational and personal progression quash aspiration and prevent prisoners from taking personal responsibility for their rehabilitation.
To tackle this, it is suggested that more bespoke learning, as well as private study for prisoners, can be facilitated by smarter use of ICT. This is referring to the widely debated idea of an increased use of “in-cell technology, such as iPads, so prisoners can learn independently".
There has been considerable criticism of both the amount of time prisoners spend in the cell, and the level of access they receive for educational materials. Prison libraries have been dismissed as understocked and having poor access schemes, meaning that inmates that wish to find books or materials to assist in their education are unlikely to be able to do so. Having access to iPads would open the door to the possibility of allowing prisoners instant access to approved offender learning materials, as well as enhancing literacy, numeracy and technology skills in the process.
There has been criticism of the review, as well as of the reforms suggested. The key argument is that the review is 'soft on crime', giving offenders a chance to receive education, and technology, that many people outside of prison would not be able to.
Despite criticism that it is under-performing and under-utilised in the prison system, Education has been proven to be a key factor in reducing re-offending rates throughout the UK. If the focus and funding is provided to allow Education to form the heart of rehabilitation attempts, then offenders will be provided with the best possible platform to re-enter society, which can only be seen as a benefit for all involved.