“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress."
- Kofi Annan
Providing education to people in prisons is vital in reducing recidivism. A recent study found that inmates that participated in educational programs while in prison were 28% less likely to commit another serious offence than those that didn't participate. Therefore, providing education to prisoners is vital not only for the safety of the community, but also for the furthering of people in prisons. Providing prisoners with access to eduational services through computers in cells is a cheap and effective way to achieve this.
Education is a basic human right. The educated have heightened opportunities that allow for an improved quality of life. It is vital that all individuals be given access to education irrespective of socio-economic status or personal circumstances. There is an urgent need to improve education for prisoners as it highly contributes to reducing recidivism, maximising rehabilitation and allowing those in custody to work towards improved post-release lives.
Recent technological changes in educational systems have adversely impacted the incarcerated by impeding on their ability to undertake or complete studies. Prison privatisation has become another major barrier as it has led to a decrease in the staffing of quality education providers.
Education in cells improves mental and physical well being, reduction of substance abuse, increasing chances of post-release employment, rehabilitation, personal development and autonomy.
Many studies regarding education in custody have shown such improvements. A RAND Corporation study outlined that American “inmates participating in correctional education programs had a 43% lower recidivism rate than those who did not”. In addition, each dollar spent funding prison education decreased incarceration costs by four to five dollars.
The UN Report on Education in Detention states that globally, many prisoners and detainees have faced “institutional and situational barriers” during their studies. This is particularly attributable to “the personal whims of prison administrators and officers… the absence of libraries… and educational material” (Munoz, 2009, 11). Australia, as a signatory of UNICESCR, has formally recognised that access to education is a basic human right, further enshrined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1995). It is therefore imperative that such arbitrary restrictions are prevented in corrective and mental health services. New processes such as retraining officers, hiring educational administrators and inclusion of prison libraries are necessary to increase accessibility to education programs.
Computers in Cells
Computer access in cells can maximise productivity in a safe manner allowing access to online education, counselling, and legal services. Empirical data has demonstrated that computer-aided education has a highly beneficial effect on reducing recidivism compared to restricted access.
Online services are paramount in giving inmates the ability to utilise education schemes, research databases and outlets.
A traditional literature system is essential, as many prisons do not have the finances to hire teachers or provide computers with Internet access in cells. Access to books allows inmates in custody to learn about subjects of interest, to self-development and improve productivity.
Lack of technology is a main barrier within prisons and prevents access to knowledge. It is unreasonable to expect a course to be completed without long-term access to computers and the Internet.
The successful case of Jeffrey McKane:
Prior to incarceration, Jeffrey McKane was embarking on a law degree at the University of New England. At Goulburn Correctional Centre, the NSWSC Commissioner repeatedly denied Mr McKane the ability to continue his studies citing inadequate resources and limited staffing. Furthermore, Mr McKane was denied his application to the Supreme Court seeking orders for CSNSW to grant him access to his studies.
This education block was highly disappointing but through Justice Action’s intervention, Mr McKane has gained access to study a law course at Southern Cross University (SCU). JA accessed online lecture materials on his behalf, took responsibility for his student email and administrative matters and provided a retired teacher to supervise Mr McKane’s examinations.
BSI Learning has been contracted as the main education provider in NSW prisons by Corrective Services NSW, replacing university-qualified educational officers with Certificate IV in Training and Assessment trainers who are not qualified to work in schools in the mainstream education framework.
Limited Certificate courses are currently provided by NSW Prisons in Construction, Education, Engineering, First Aid, Workplace Health and Safety, Health Support Services and Transport. Whereas BSI provides accredited learning courses in Hospitality, Kitchen Operations, Construction, Cleaning operations and Language, Literacy and Numeracy.
Additionally, institutions and government agencies offering modified higher education programs. The University of Southern Queensland, the leading and largest national provider for incarcerated higher education students, and the Adult Education and Vocational Training Institute offer limited Corrective Services approved Services in NSW.
Prison privatisation has resulted in reduced education quality and has raised significant ethical problems. Prisoner’s autonomy has been limited based on the decisions of private corporations, which are disinterested in prisoner rehabilitation.
Privatisation of prisons has been seen, for example, in the 2016 “Better Prisons” initiative replacing 130 qualified teaching positions in NSW prisoners with administrative clerks. The government described the initiative as a program to lift performance and improve the efficiency of the prison education system. However, profit and efficiency became the long-term aim.
The primary focus of the 2018 Community Justice Coalition forum was the compromised quality of tailored education brought about by privatisation. It was evaluated that this system is a significant demarcation of the poor standards of teaching in prisons.
The 2018 Prisoner Education Forum (PEF) passed two motions resolving that professional teachers be provided throughout NSW prisons with a focus on reducing recidivism and supporting reintegration into society. PEF also resolved that computers in cells should be provided to prisoners as an educational tool.