Here’s what has happened to education in UK prisons in the past 5 years

Has the “rehabilitation revolution” stalled?

Source: Martyna Starosta on Vimeo

Source: Martyna Starosta on Vimeo


The “rehabilitation revolution”  promised by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in November 2012 has yet to materialise.  This is especially true when it comes to a key pillar of rehab: education. 

A new report by CentreForum, an independent think-tank, says that prison education in England and Wales has “declined or stagnated” in the past five years.

“Despite the political rhetoric, recent attempts to create a ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’ have not yet borne fruit: reoffending rates in England and Wales remain high, and the quality of education in prison seems to have been in decline.”


Percentage of prisoners involved in education, 2008-15

Source: CentreForum

Source: CentreForum


The report comes ahead of the government’s own review of education in prisons that is due to be published later this month.

The government’s target is to have 50 per cent of prisoners engaged in education, but estimates suggest that only 23 per cent of prisoners were engaged in education in 2014.


Prison education: failing on three fronts 

CentreForum’s report measured education in prison according to three criteria: access, quality and outcomes. The government is failing on all three fronts.

There has been a drop in quality of education as rated by regulator Ofsted.  Nearly three-quarters of prisons were deemed to be “inadequate” or “require improvement” in 2014-15, the worst result since 2009-10.

Percentage of prisons & YOIs that “require improvement” or are “inadequate”, 2011-15

Source: CentreForum

Source: CentreForum


Those who do get access to education are doing so increasingly at lower levels. The numbers studying for Level 3 qualifications fell by nearly two-thirds between 2011-12 and 2014-15. 

Many prisoners are also having difficulty accessing education because they are spending more time locked in their cells. In 2014-15, substantially more prisoners spent less than two hours out of cell than those who were unlocked for over 10 hours. 

Time spent out of cell by prisoners, 2011-15

Source: CentreForum

Source: CentreForum


Since August 2015 young offenders institutions (YOIs) have been required to provide 27 hours of education a week and three hours of physical education. However since August 2015, none of the YOIs have reached that requirement. Cookham Wood on average provided only 17 hours of education.

And the outcomes are getting worse. The achievement of accredited qualifications in English and Maths fell 10 per cent between 2011-12 and 2014-15.

Qualifications achieved by prisoners, 2011-15

Source: CentreForum

Source: CentreForum


Why is education in prison important? 

Just over half of prisoners (53 per cent) report having any qualification, compared with 85 per cent of the working age population.

Educating prisoners can reduce reoffending and save money. A study by the University of Bristol found that basic skills education can reduce reoffending by about 12 per cent. A separate US study said the figure was 13 per cent and concluded that every one dollar spent on education saved five dollars on reincarceration.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) found that reductions in reoffending due to education could result in savings ranging from £2,000 to £28,000 per prisoner.


What can be done to improve education in prison?  

CentreForum said that top priority should be given to collecting data as current numbers are “either inadequate or unreliable”. This is especially important if Justice Secretary Michael Gove plans to give prison governors more autonomy.

For example, official figures show there were 101,600 adult offenders in the prison system participating in education, but the figure is “virtually meaningless” because it counts prisoners moving between prisons multiple times.

CentreForum says each prison should collect data on education and employment on release and six months later. The figures could then be compared on a national basis.

The think-tank also says prison governors should be made responsible for education provision in their prisons and that there should be clear entitlements for prisoners and access to education should be prioritised.

It also recommends that inspection regimes should be more stringent, with education a limiting factor for overall prison ratings. 

And finally, greater focus should be placed on the needs of particular cohorts of prisoners, emphasising the link with employment. In particular, consideration should be given to a distinct offer for prisoners aged 18-21.

We will have more on education in prison when the government publishes its recommendations soon.

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