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Prisons and Young Offender Institutions: Education and Training

Volume 725: debated on Monday 28 February 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements are in place to provide education and training for those in prisons and young offender institutions.

My Lords, the Government believe strongly in giving offenders the skills and training they need to get and keep jobs. That reduces their likelihood of reoffending and is of clear benefit to society. A review into the efficiency and effectiveness of offender learning led jointly by DBIS and the MoJ is nearing completion and will report shortly.

My Lords, I look forward to that response in due course. Is it not clear that education and training can reduce prison overcrowding, and that those who have not had proper education and training are three times more likely to be convicted? The overcrowding in prisons limits valuable education and training, so what action will be taken to reduce that overcrowding?

The noble Lord will know that it is our intention to try to bring down the prison population in the next few years, partly by following his line of argument: that if there is a proper rehabilitation strategy for prisoners, they are likely not to reoffend, which will take the pressure off the prison population.

I am afraid that that is not in my briefing but I will write to the noble Baroness and put the information in the Library. It is important to engage prisoners of all ages into the concept of learning, and I am sure that a writer in residence will be a spur to that end.

My Lords, considering the sizeable percentage of prisoners with mental illness, can the Minister tell us what the Government propose to provide the necessary education and training to meet the unique and challenging needs of this population?

My Lords, I hate to keep saying “Shortly a paper will be published”, but the Department for Education is about to publish a Green Paper on special education needs, which will look again at the special education needs of prisoners. One of the things pointed out in the Green Paper published by the MoJ—it is still open for consultation for another four days—is that far too many prisoners have undetected mental problems. We are making every effort to ensure that opportunities and facilities are in place to detect and help to treat those problems.

My Lords, going back to the noble Lord’s answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, can he confirm that the Government value the broad educational opportunities created by the use of the arts—including the performing arts—in prisons? Will he also confirm that the Government will not fall victim to the strident voices telling us that that kind of opportunity in prison is going soft on prison life?

I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. Often our media like to leap on an initiative and present it in a way that, as she says, suggests it is soft on prison. The whole rehabilitation strategy tries to break into the ludicrous situation of people going through the prison system and reoffending shortly after being released. If we can find ways of engaging them in cultural interests by providing education, we will save public money and avoid further crime. That is plain common sense.

My Lords, education and training has a direct impact on the rehabilitation of offenders, so will my noble friend ensure that this part of his department’s budget is ring-fenced? Will he also look at the possibility that, any time non-custodial sentencing options are considered, training will form an essential part of that programme?

I am reluctant, particularly with a Treasury Minister at my shoulder, to make commitments on ring-fencing of any budget, but the kind of campaign that my noble friend has led and with which he has been associated on the rehabilitation of offenders is very much in our minds. There is illiteracy, innumeracy and a lack of various other aspects of education and training among prisoners, so it is a no-brainer to see that if we can break into that we can also break into the circle of crime.

The Minister has just talked about illiteracy. Does he agree that it is very difficult to get a job when you leave prison and you cannot read and write? Can he explain why the farms and gardens are closed? They provide very suitable work for people who may have a great love for that kind of work but who cannot read and write.

Across the Prison Service we are trying to identify opportunities for people to be trained. As the noble Baroness says, for somebody who lacks literacy—although I hope we address that in our programmes—gardening and similar park activity may quite often provide rewarding and worthwhile employment.

My Lords, does the Minister recollect that the prison rules still express the reformation of the prisoner as the main purpose of incarceration, and that adequate educational and training services are central to that very concept?

Again, I could not agree more. Of course punishment is an aspect of prison, as is protection of the public from dangerous prisoners. However, as I mentioned, with issues such as homelessness, dysfunctional families, lack of education and lack of a job when leaving prison, if you can intervene while people are in prison and prepare them for life outside with a proper policy on the rehabilitation of offenders, then you break into the cycle of crime, lower the numbers in prison and make it a win-win situation for the public and the taxpayer.