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Prisoner Education/Reoffending Rates

Volume 639: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2018

9. What steps he is taking to ensure that prisoners can obtain education and skills while in prison in order to reduce reoffending rates. (904902)

To address education in prison, Dame Sally Coates’s report makes three key recommendations: first, to carry out an individual survey of a prisoner’s educational needs when they enter prison; secondly, to make sure that governors have more control over education provision to reflect the needs of the prison or local area; and, thirdly, to make sure that English and maths are a core part of that curriculum.

A 2017 report said that the quality of education in English and Welsh prisons was generally good, but it found that poor attendance and punctuality of prisoners often went unchallenged and that the process of moving prisoners to learning, skills and work activities from the wings was often ineffective and poorly managed. What is being done to address those problems?

It is absolutely right that there is no point having good educational provision if prisoners are not getting to the classrooms. Fundamentally we need to do two things: first, make sure that prisoners are moved reliably and predictably from their cells into the classrooms; and, secondly, make sure that the educational provision in the classrooms is sufficiently attractive for the prisoners to engage.

I apologise for being late, Mr Speaker, but I was at the unveiling of the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square.

May we have an evaluation of how far we have got? Some years ago, when I was Chair of the Education Committee, we looked at skills training in prisons, but I do not think that much has happened since then, particularly for people on the special educational needs spectrum, and especially those with autism.

There has been a significant improvement in the Ofsted reports, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that people with special educational needs, in particular, and the more than 50% of prisoners who have previously been excluded from school or have literacy challenges remain a big issue for education in prisons.

Does the Minister agree that one of the keys to reducing reoffending rates is ensuring that skilled probation officers have manageable case loads so that they can give enough time and energy to each individual in their care?

Absolutely. It is particularly important that there can be flexibility so that there can be a higher ratio of probation officers to high-risk cases than for low-risk cases.

It is right, of course, that prisoners must turn up, but when I visited Deerbolt prison in my constituency, the governor said that the contractor, Novus, was extremely unreliable. What is the Minister doing to respond to the report by ensuring that as contracts are rolled over, control of them is decentralised to the prison?

This is a central issue about which governors get very frustrated. Over the next 12 months, the hon. Lady will discover that we are putting governors in charge of that provision so that they can put pressure on the provider within the prison and ensure that it meets their needs.