/hr/file/inside-prisonInside a Prison
Most prisons in Scotland are publically run by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) with the exception of two prisons which are operated by private companies. Prison education in prisons operated by the SPS, is contracted out to external providers. Typically the contracts are awarded to Colleges of Further Education specialising in the delivery of post compulsory education in society at large, particularly in areas of vocational education. New College Lanarkshire and Fife College currently hold the contracts for all of the SPS prisons. The existing contracts, agreed by the SPS, place emphasis on the delivery of literacy and numeracy, health and wellbeing, expressive arts and social studies, as well as Information Communication Technology.
The SPS’s stated priority is the rehabilitation of prisoners, not punishment, with the mission statement ‘Unlocking potential, transforming lives’. This is apparent in some of the innovative projects that students in prison are currently engaged with. For example, Paws for Progress is a pioneering programme initiated by Rebecca Leonardi at Stirling University, who works with Fife College at the Young Offenders Institute (YOI) HMP Polmont. The programme educates young men in the care and training of homeless dogs, with the students taking responsibility for training the animals for domestic life with new owners. New College Lanarkshire has encouraged arts education for students, e.g. through projects with Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre at HMP Barlinnie. NCL also supports STIR Magazine, the only creative arts publication in Scotland that is produced by prisoners for a prisoner readership. Each issue is made available to the public via its website.
In general, governments deny prisoners any access to the Internet and a range of multimedia and portable memory devices. There are repercussions for students and education staff, particularly for the learning of life skills such as managing bank accounts, paying bills and applying for jobs. Distance learning opportunities for society as a whole are increasingly being made available via on-line portals or MOOCs. Prison educators and their students would plea to everyone involved in the creation of education courses for adults, that they also make versions in hard copy or CD formats for transfer to prison learning environments.
Options for improving prison education have been identified by a Scottish Government (2010) consultation. Issues identified included improving ways of identifying prisoners with literacy needs and encouraging them to come to classes. There is currently no robust data about the literacy attainment of the prisoner population in Scotland, though equivalent data for England was published for the first time in 2015. Other issues include problems preventing prisoners being ‘opened up’ for education (i.e. unlocked from their cells and escorted by prison officers to the Learning Centre). Also, that the ‘wages’ or rewards system (that allows prisoners who comply with rules the occasional purchase of small items such as soap or sweets) might be amended to encourage more prisoners to attend education classes. Two thirds of people released from Scottish prisons reoffend within two years and there is recognition that assisting this group is complex, where housing, addiction, mental health and family problems must be addressed. This poses challenges to design learning that better prepares students in prison life outside, including decent employment, and that links better with the work of external agencies that offer support into work or study.
Differences with England
A central difference between Scotland’s prison education and that in England and Wales is the government department responsible for tendering the contracts. In England and Wales the UK Government’s Department of Education is responsible for tendering and evaluating education contracts with prisons. By contrast, for Scottish prisons, this responsibility lies with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. In England tendering for education contracts is more frequent, with impacts on services and staff which has been reported on through research conducted by Institute of Education in London, supported the University and College Union (UCU). However, across the UK, there is little ‘down time’ for prison educators. Aside from Christmas, prisoners do not stop work for religious festivals or get to take summer holidays, so there is no natural end to the academic year. Education providers agree to deliver education for 50 weeks out of 52, with many classes operating on a roll on roll off basis where teachers cannot predict who will be in their class from one week to the next. This makes a very demanding environment for all staff, but prison education is also hugely worthwhile and rewarding for both students and their teachers.
Dr Sarah Galloway is a lecturer in education at the University of Stirling, Scotland. Since gaining her PhD, Sarah was Offender Learning Lecturer at HMP Barlinnie employed by New College Lanarkshire. She also worked on the development and teaching of the new Community Education BA programme at the University of the West of Scotland.