Headlines: May 24th, 2004

A former prison governor, who is now a leading academic, will today brand education in Britain’s prisons ‘a disgrace’. Professor David Wilson will speak at a meeting of the Forum on Prisoner Education where his audience will include Home office minister Ivan Lewis.Professor Wilson will detail research showing that nine out of ten inmates at Liverpool prison have education abilities below those expected of an 11-year-old but that the jail can offer education courses to only 18 per cent of prisoners.

The forum meeting is expected to be attended by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, senior civil servants and charity directors. Mr. Lewis will outline government priorities for prisoner education.

Figures from the Forum on Prisoner Education show that half of all prisoners are at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old in reading, two thirds in numeracy and 80 per cent in writing. More than half of male prisoners and two thirds of female adult prisoners have no qualifications at all and half of prisoners do not have the skills needed for 96 per cent of jobs. At the same time, campaigners say limited access to education is an unavoidable aspect of prison overcrowding.

Professor Wilson, who heads the criminology department at the University of central England, said, “If prison is about making bad people good, affording them the means and skills to live in the outside world without committing crime, then the emphasis in our prisons needs to be on those services and facilities that might just make the bad better. First among those services is education.”