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The Role of Education in Prisons

Posted: 8th February 2018 Report on an Unannounced Inspection of Magilligan Prison

Fingerprint Learning has been involved in prison education initiatives in Maghaberry Prison, Hydebank Wood College (formerly prison) and with the Youth Justice Agency in delivering education programmes for four years.

We have delivered our '3A' programme in these prisons – which stands for Aspiration, Achievement and Access through Whole Brain approaches to learning and teaching. It was very gratifying to be involved in helping to collaborate with Magilligan Prison in the lead up to the unannounced Inspection in June 2017.

This was reported by BBC News as follows:

"A new inspection report on Magilligan prison is the most positive ever about a jail in Northern Ireland. The report, published on Tuesday, describes progress at the prison near Limavady since it was last inspected three years ago as "immensely encouraging".

"When inspectors visited Magilligan Prison in 2014, we were concerned that nearly half of the prison population was not participating in education, vocational training or work activities," said CJI chief inspector Brendan McGuigan.

"However, when we visited the prison in June this year, we found excellent progress had been made in this area. Time out of cell was much improved and learning, skills and work provision had moved forward significantly with about three quarters of the men held there engaged in a range of purposeful activity."

Fingerprint Learning was specifically mentioned in the report as contributing to this result which was the best ever for a prison in Northern Ireland. One element of this was the contribution made by the Fingerprint Learning BrainFit programme for older prisoners. This is designed to promote cognitive stimulation as a deterrent to dementia and mental decline. The March blog will have more to say on this.

However, one lesson learnt from our experience in the prisons has been that what is known as 'purposeful activity' actually falls far short of the needs of the prison population if the rates of re-offending are to be cut and prisoners are to leave prison with more purposeful lives after imprisonment.

The great need is for activity in prison, especially education and training, to be geared to match potential employment opportunities for prisoners on release. Accumulating educational qualifications or engaging in ‘purposeful activity’ can camouflage the absence of realistic preparation for employment. If there is one critical area that needs addressed to improve prisoners experience on release and to reduce re-offending it is to give prisoners hope and aspiration for employment as soon as they enter the prison system and then match their education and training to genuine opportunities for employment, however long their sentences may be.

If this was to be seriously addressed as a priority for prisons as part of the Prisons 2020 consultation and planning for prisons in NI, it would transform the current policies and outcomes of imprisonment massively. Prisons could become transformative communities with prisoners being given hope of being prepared for specific careers and life outside. Without a vision for life transformation such as this we will continue to find that however engaged the prisoners may be in 'purposeful activities' or education and training, the outcomes will be unlikely to change significantly.

Through our contribution to this Report it has been inspiring for us to meet and work with leadership who are seeing this clearly and working hard to bring such transformations about. This is not just good for prisoners but our whole society.

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