‘Unacceptable’ that prisoners can’t get an education, says charity

The Prisoners’ Education Trust issued the warning following the HM chief inspector of prisoners Peter Clarke’s report into the annual report on the state of English and Welsh prisons

The chief executive of a charity that has helped tens of thousands of inmates obtain an education has slammed the difficulty of gaining skills in prison as “unacceptable”.

Responding to an annual report on the state of English and Welsh prisons, Rod Clark of the Prisoners’ Education Trust said that in too many cases, prisons are “extraordinarily difficult places in which to learn and gain skills”.

HM chief inspector of prisoners Peter Clarke found in his report that purposeful activity in prisons, such as education or training, wasn’t judged to be good or even reasonably good around two thirds of the time.

It was also found that staff shortages and levels of violence meant people behind bars were unable to attend education or training and were locked in their cells for “inordinate” lengths of time without access to purposeful activities.

Rod Clark said that unless the burning issues were addressed, there is a danger that prisoner progress will “continue to be impeded”.

PET has given 40,000 educational awards to prison learners since 1989 and says that education has the power to help people find work and break the cycle of crime.

Last week, during a competition run by the charity, prisoners demonstrated the crucial role education can play in curbing reoffending.

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Some inmates talked about the power of education to transform their identities and have a positive impact on their mental health, with one saying access to education helped them stay alive.

In April, significant changes to education in prison were introduced, and the responsibility for managing education now sits with governors.

The charity also acknowledged some positive work highlighted in the annual report.

“Working in this difficult context, it is all the more important to recognise the good work highlighted in this report,” said Clark.

“For example, the use of peer mentoring, service user engagement, and examples of excellent leadership in education. We commend these initiatives, and the people who – in often deeply challenging environments – are giving men and women the tools to transform their lives.”

In his report, HM chief inspector Clarke also questioned the effectiveness of placing institutions in special measures – he cited inspections of HMP Lewes and HMP Bedford as proof.

He said: “On some occasions the response has been to place a struggling prison in ‘special measures’, but I do not have confidence in that as a reliable means of driving improvement. The inspection of HMP Lewes in January 2019 found a prison that had been in special measures for two years, and yet had declined in no less than three of our four healthy prison tests and failed to improve in the vital test of safety.

“Similarly, the special measures at HMP Bedford left me with little confidence that the prison could improve, and the use of the Urgent Notification process was inevitable.”