Nina Champion is Head of Policy at Prisoners’ Education Trust and is the latest contributor in the current series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary. You can follow @PrisonersEd on Twitter. Thanks to Rebecca Radmore for the photograph.
If I were Justice Secretary
To give someone a genuine opportunity to move away from crime, education can be the key to unlock their potential. Ministry of Justice research shows that prisoners who engage in learning are less likely to re-offend (e.g. MoJ analysis of prisoners funded by PET to do distance learning courses was proven to reduce reoffending by more than a quarter). So if I were Justice Secretary, I would invest in rehabilitation through learning. My top three priorities would be:
1. Smart Rehabilitation
As Justice Secretary, the prison education brief is shared with the Skills Secretary; however I would be committed to developing a rehabilitative culture in prisons. Given the evidence on the effectiveness of learning, I would be keen to work closely with the Skills Secretary to make a strong learning culture in prisons a priority.
In particular I would push to achieve greater flexibilities in the education contracts to enable Governors and education providers to work more effectively together to ensure the curriculum meets needs of their population. I would also incentivise more effective partnership working with the community and voluntary sector to help deliver engaging learning opportunities for all prisoners. I would look at the Prisoner Learning Alliance report ‘Smart Rehabilitation’ for sources of good practice and recommendations.
2. Close the digital divide
As society becomes ever more digitalised, and the government moves more public services online, I would understand that applying for jobs, accommodation, college courses and benefits rely on having good digital literacy; and that schools, colleges and universities increasingly make use of digital learning resources and online courses to achieve the best outcomes for learners.
Allowing prisoners to use a secure version of the internet may not be a vote-winner but I would be a brave Justice Secretary and recognise that it is absolutely essential for a person’s rehabilitation in the 21st century. I would of course have to ensure that the risks were managed, but I would balance security risks with the risk of prisoners re-offending if they are released without digital skills vital to modern day living, working and learning.
The Ministry of Justice have already invested significant sums of money in a safe intranet-style ‘Virtual Campus’ system which has been rolled out in most prisons and which could transform learning and rehabilitation in prisons, however it is far from being used to its full potential. I would make this a priority and would re-read PET and PRT’s report ‘Through The Gateway’ for inspiration.
3. Involve prisoners
If we all want people to leave prison and make a positive contribution to society, why not enable them to start during their sentence? I would make it a priority to ensure prison staff work together with prisoners to improve rehabilitation by giving them more responsibility, using their talents and encouraging them to help others with roles such as peer mentors, student council representatives and learning champions. I would encourage staff and Governors to read and implement ideas from PET’s toolkit ‘Involve, Improve, Inspire’.
The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be.