Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Prisoner Learning: The Conservative Approach

Alan Duncan MP (Shadow Minister for Prisons) has indicated that the Conservative Party is seeking to promote a 'rehabilitation revolution' within our prisons. He has said that he wants prisons to be places where people can, in the course of their custody, be equipped for life outside prison.

Without doubt, these are aspirations that many of us have been seeking for a long time and it is undoubtedly to be applauded. Only then will we see a meaningful reduction in recidivism. The issue however remains that of providing a supportive environment which is truly conducive to learning, where staff are led, motivated, sufficiently trained and empowered to provide it. Unless these fundamentals are addressed, little will change and re-offending rates will remain high.

The reality is that learning for the majority of prisoners is something that they have historically failed to achieve. Consequently, inviting them to return to the classroom and potentially fail again is something that many are not inclined to repeat. To overcome this most basic issue requires a cultural shift from that of control, security and numbers to that of improved relationships, motivation and change; change of course is hard for us all. Notwithstanding, without encouragement, support and opportunity, few prisoners will engage to the level that can be described as a 'revolution'.

The most critical component in the overall process is the ability and attitude of staff, both officers and teachers. Unfortunately, the understanding and training for staff and teachers / trainers to deliver and manage such an environment is woefully lacking. For a re-habilitation revolution to arise it will be essential to provide increased investment in staff training, strong leadership and a process that promotes a cultural change in the overall learning environment.

Change the thinking and the feelings and you will change the behaviour and encourage the learning.

We demand that prisoners change their thinking and behaviour, but are too often unwilling to look at our own, recognising that we are part of the problem.

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