Action required to tackle learning deficits in prisons

A collaborative Ministerial approach should seek to improve delivery of education and skills provision in Northern Ireland’s prisons as it continues to deteriorate.

In a report published today by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland and the Education and Training Inspectorate longstanding concerns about the quality and impact of the learning and skills provision for prisoners were confirmed.
Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Inspection and Noelle Buick, Chief Inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate, have today called for the Department of Justice to enhance its collaboration with the Department for Employment and Learning to improve the Northern Ireland Prison Service’s provision of learning and skills by outsourcing its delivery; developing a managed service solution for prison IT systems and appointing a senior manager to oversee the role of learning and skills.
“While there have been pockets of excellence and innovative practice inspectors found that the situation continues to deteriorate and that is unacceptable,” said Dr Maguire.
“One has to remember that the provision of learning and skills in our prisons is a major element in the rehabilitation of prisoners with a view to reducing reoffending.
“If that provision is inadequate in any way then the system not only lets the prisoners down but wider society as a whole. With more than 60 per cent of prisoners below the minimum required level in their essential skills of literacy and/or numeracy, too few are being helped to address their deficits.”
Noelle Buick added that with the exception of the outsourced Essential Skills provision in Magilligan Prison, delivered by the North West Regional College, outcomes for prisoners were often poor. However, the report fully recognises that the real barriers to progressing the provision of learning and skills to the prisoner population, whether in relation to Essential Skills or to wider vocational training, are a number of difficult restrictive institutional and security issues.
“While Inspectors have made numerous recommendations to improve the Learning and Skills provision in prisons, progress has been negligible for a variety of reasons, including the low status afforded to Learning and Skills across the prison service” said Noelle Buick.
The Chief Inspectors urged the Minister for Justice to consider outsourcing more of the education and training for prisoners. This could be done by either public or private sector providers, for example by building on the good work already being done with prisoners by the further education sector.
“Effective collaborative partnerships with external providers are an important part of the way forward, in particular the delivery of Essential Skills within the unique context of a prison. Collaborative partnerships also offer the Northern Ireland Prison Service a range of options which would prepare prisoners much better for competing in the employment market upon release,” they said.

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