Bishop of Peterborough criticises lack of education courses for prisoners

Bishop Donald Allister at Peterborough Cathedral ENGEMN00120130623164741
Bishop Donald Allister at Peterborough Cathedral ENGEMN00120130623164741

Inmates are missing out on the chance to improve their futures by taking part in education programmes due to failings in the prison system, according to the Bishop of Peterborough.

The Rt Rev Donald Allister says financial cuts, governmental ‘tinkering’ and the contract process has impacted on the delivery of education in prisons.

Although Bishop Donald made mention of the policy changes that Secretary of State Michael Gove made, in particular, “for allowing prisoners greater and easier access to books”, he said there were still prisoners who are not able to access education in prison.

The prisoners who miss out most are those who have the time but not the opportunity to change their futures for the better, he added.

Bishop Donald told of visiting a prison that had vocational training for female prisoners in catering.

“One prisoner told me that she was close to completing a course which would lead to a nationally recognised qualification but that she would not be able to complete it because she had just been given very short notice of being moved to another prison. I asked her if she would like me to say something to those in authority, to which she replied, “Thank you, but don’t bother. We expect this. It’s just the way the system treats us”.

“The system should not treat prisoners or anyone else in that way. We talk about a patient-centred NHS. What about a prisoner-centred Prison Service, not least as regards education and equipping for outside life?”

He explained that prison education needs rethinking.

“My second example relates to the importance of holistic education. Surely the work was done to help prisoners change wrong behaviour patterns—important programmes such as restorative justice and resettlement training—should be seen as part and parcel of the whole educational provision and aligned with it. But the funding of these programmes has been reduced and reallocated to the new community rehabilitation companies. Surely this must make the holistic approach—connecting educational provision with behavioural change and rehabilitation—much less likely.

“What became most clear in this debate, other than the need to educate prisoners in numeracy, literacy, and vocation, was that there wasn’t a clear strategy for prisons in the UK. Some prisons have significantly more money per prisoner to spend on education than others.

“The cost of education varies greatly per prison. According to Lord Ramsbottom when “the Prison Service funded its own education, individual prison governors being allowed to make cuts in spending without any checks or balances, resulting in the most appalling imbalance between individual prisons in what was available per prisoner per year: £406 per young offender in Brinsford, £1,750 in Werrington in the same county, and £2,500 in Thorn Cross in Cheshire,” he added.

According to The Ministry of Justice cost per prisoner, cost per place is £33,785, putting the cost of reoffending in perspective, he said.

Speaking of the review, Dame Sally Coates is undertaking on the provision of education in prisons due March of this year Bishop Donald said: “I am grateful that Her Majesty’s Government have initiated this review. I urge them to ensure that prisoners get the life-transforming education they need—for all our sakes.”