Why should you teach in prisons? We give you our top reasons for considering a career in offender learning.
Teaching is renowned for being a rewarding and worthwhile profession, and teaching in prisons can be even more so. Teaching in a prison might sound scary, particularly at the moment, but there is nothing to fear. There’s no denying that our Justice system has some huge flaws in it that urgently need to be fixed as demonstrated by recent events. However, there are many positives to working in offender learning, and education and vocational training are irrefutably long term, sustainable methods for fixing some of the problems with our system.
According to the Prisoners Education Trust (PET), 47% of prisoners have no qualifications. This lack of education causes them to struggle when finding employment once released. Nearly half of adults are reconvicted within one year of release, and this statistic rises to 73% for under 18 year olds. Yet, according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice, 97% of offenders say that they want to stop offending and 68% say that the biggest factor in helping them do so is having a job.
Statistics show that education reduces the probability of reoffending as it gives offenders a higher chance of finding employment on release. Offenders working with education and training initiatives have gone on to take functional skills exams, open up small businesses on release, and gain permanent employment. Our prisons have been overcrowded for decades, but if we can stop people from reoffending by helping them get stable employment then we can change that and reduce some of the pressure on the prison system. In the short term, education also gives offenders something to focus on whilst they are in prison. Rather than just being cooped up and frustrated, it gives them something to do.
Sally Alexander, executive director of offender learning at Milton Keynes College, says that the focus on reform and preparation for life on release is being curtailed by staff shortages. These shortages cause safety problems and can result in prisoners being unable to attend learning or learning schemes being cancelled. These cancellations are demotivating for learners. Many of them want to succeed and turn their lives around, and whilst some of them can be difficult at times, most of them want to engage and learn.
Teachers in prisons are protected at all times as all classes are supervised by a prison officer. Class sizes are also a lot smaller than those within a usual education setting. This enables staff to build a relationship with prisoners. Teachers can watch as their teaching helps someone do something they never ever thought they would be able to do, like read a book, make an anti-drugs campaign or create a business plan. Learners are motivated because they want to be there. These initiatives are not compulsory; prisoners choose to attend these classes because they want to learn and are grateful to be given the opportunity.
There are also many personal benefits to teaching in prisons. Staff are entitled to a regular salary, pension and annual leave. There are also no restrictions on when you can take your holiday as offender learning does not stick to normal term times. This means you don’t have to take your holiday during school holidays. There is also no marking to take home because resources cannot be taken out of the prison. You have to literally leave your work at work. Training can be delivered on the job, and if you aren’t already a teacher you can get your teaching qualifications while you are working.
Teaching in prisons provides support and assistance to those people that want to change. It might be clichéd, but it can make a difference and change someone’s life for the better. Education is a huge part of the rehabilitation process. Giving someone literacy skills, maths skills, or vocational skills gives them more opportunities when they are released. This in turn can reduce reoffending rates, which is not only a blessing for the average tax payer, but also for the prison system. By teaching in a prison you’re not just hoping for prison reform to happen, but are a part of it.