Education Rights

RAND (Reports on the efficacy of prison education programs)
Prisoner Public Education Attacked
Denying Education to the Willing: The Jeffrey McKane Story
Computers in Cells Roundtable DIscussion
Prison Education Public Forum Footage
Prison Education Public Forum Summary Paper

What is education?  Put simply, education is power.  It is the power of opportunity and self-determination.

See our Education Position Paper.

The access and quality of education services to those within the prison and mental health care systems continues to be an area of great debate and discussion. It is inevitable that many in society view individuals within the prison and mental health care systems as unworthy or undeserving of such a “privilege”. However, education is a basic human right (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to which all deserve access irrespective of social or economic status, or personal circumstance. Australia formally acknowledged its recognition of and commitment to this right (Article 13 of the ICESCR) through its involvement in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The denial of education should not be used as a punitive measure by corrective or mental health care services.

Education is a multifaceted concept that targets and promotes opportunity, growth, wellbeing and awareness. One of JA’s aims is to educate prisoners and forensic patients, figures of authority and the community as to the education rights and benefits of those within the prison and mental health care systems. Through this, JA also seeks to increase the advocacy for and acknowledgement of these rights.

Structured Education

Structured education has a particular role to play in assisting prisoners, and forensic patients, with reintegration into society, and in helping break the cycle of recidivism. Education provides a pillar of support that allows an individual to learn financial and social independence. In doing so, ex-prisoners are able to turn away from old lifestyles and cycles of crime, assisting them in becoming functional members of society. Education programs such as TAFE and AEVTI courses provide for an array of job opportunities – ranging from the trades to the humanities – providing a greater chance that freed prisoners will find employment in the future. The benefit of this has been demonstrated in numerous studies; in the US, one study found that prisoners who participated in correctional educational programs were 43% less likely to reoffend. The cost of prisoner education is far less than the cost of re-incarceration and community costs resulting from recidivism.

Unstructured & Self-Directed Education

At Justice Action, we believe that education extends beyond courses designed to focus released individuals into future employment; education is self-directed, and improves the wellbeing of prisoners and forensic patients. Educational access increases the awareness of an individual’s rights – to freedom of religion, health services, and access to legal services. It carries enormous potential, not merely to facilitate individual development, but also as a positive outlet and use of a prisoner’s energy and time. An unstructured view of education highlights the importance of access to books, CDs, DVDs, and the Internet, to allowing prisoners and forensic patients to learn at their own pace and about the topics which engage and interest them. In the face of the long, tedious hours prisoners and forensic patients are subject to whilst incarcerated, education services could potentially reduce the use of illicit substances, amongst other self-harmful behaviours, which are used in an effort to ‘pass the time’. Education provides an opportunity to enrich individuals spiritually and culturally, through connection with art, music, and religion.

Access to Education - Prison System

For the good of our community, we need a computer in every prison cell.  Computers are a tool to target and decrease recidivism rates through education, awareness and self-betterment.  With the majority of prisoners spending up to 18 hours each day in their cells, providing prisoners with educational tools and resources in their cells would take advantage of this otherwise wasted time to reduce prison disruption and prisoner deviancy, and to increase deterrence and the likelihood of prisoners becoming productive members of society when they return outside.

By simply providing incarcerated individuals with a computer of their own, recidivism rates could be drastically reduced.  While there are specific security issues that would have to be considered, technological advancements are rapidly ensuring that such concerns would be easily addressed.  Although providing prisoners with computers in their cells has been successful in the ACT, Victoria and Norway, computers are currently not provided in individual cells in NSW and most prisons around the world.

Computers in Cells Proposal

Offering a myriad of personal stories and quotes from recent ex-prisoners, the ‘Computers in Cells’ proposal clearly depicts the severely restricted computer access currently being provided in NSW prisons.  In on instance, a prisoner was only able to gain access to a computer five times in one year, consequently forcing them to withdraw from the university and TAFE courses they were undertaking at the time.  The provision of computers would come at a very small cost to the Department of Corrective Services NSW, with many organisations having already expressed interest in contributing to and funding such a project.  Justice Action proposes that computers be equipped with email capabilities and educational resources, whilst simultaneously being centrally managed and monitored, and protected from unauthorised modifications. 

Access to Education - Mental Health Care System

Benefits of Education

  • Physical and Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • Reducing Substance Abuse
  • Reducing Recidivism
  • Employment and Rehabilitation
  • Personal Development and Self-expression

Firstly, we believe that education will improve the wellbeing of the prisoner during their time incarcerated. Education carries enormous potential in simply providing a positive outlet for prisoners’ time. This is particularly important when we consider the long, monotonous hours prisoners are subject to while incarcerated, potentially reducing the use of illicit substances, amongst other self-destructive behaviours, to ‘pass the time.’ The case of Tracy Brannigan’s death in custody is one example of where education, had it been available, may have altered the unfortunate outcome. Justice Action firmly believes that mere access to education and a computer would have allowed her to use her time in prison effectively, which had often been spent locked down in her cell for hours on end. To ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again, we have proposed an action plan that should be considered by all stakeholders.

Not only will education in prison improve the wellbeing of offenders during their time incarcerated, but it will also help the offender shape their own identity. In doing so, this will allow them to deviate from their old lifestyle and become a functional member of society. As a result, an array of opportunities in areas of employment, ranging from the trades to the humanities, will open up for them to pursue once released. The US has shown this to be the case, as prisoners who participated in correctional educational programs were 43 percent less likely to reoffend.

"All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality” (Article 6 of the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners).  It is often misconceived that education only refers to intellectual and academic progression.  However as insulated through the aforementioned principle, education in fact includes infinite and invaluable ways of enriching individuals spiritually, culturally, socially, economically and personally. It should involve access to a variety of structured programs and unstructured learning hubs from which an individual can choose.  The availability of choice provides individuals with the freedom of self-directed learning so that they can pursue personal interest for their own betterment and enrichment.  It is through education that prisoners and forensic patients can increase the likelihood of successful and relatively easy reintegration into society upon their release as the process of learning provides individuals with more avenues for employment and thus financial independence.

The 'Cost' of Education & Other Issues for Consideration

Costs (current and future) vs. earnings

Education is a positive direction of energy and reduces the incidence of destructive behaviour. We urge the government to provide an adequate allocation of resources to prisons and mental health care facilities, in areas including the provision of teachers, computers and other educational materials. This will better equip prisoners and forensic patients seeking to develop themselves and make positive lifestyle changes, providing them with a much-needed lifeline. Such changes will benefit not only the individual, but also society as a whole – the benefits of individual enrichment and community costs of recidivism far outweigh the short-term cost of increasing education access in correctional and mental health facilities.

  • Recognition: Ensure the recognition of qualifications gained in prison to aid individuals when seeking employment upon release
  • Prospect of further education: Ability to pursue further or higher education upon release
  • Employment: Programs funded/implemented by employers à guarantee future employment if successfully completed

While in 2013-2014, NSW prisons facilitated the delivery of 18,335 hours of TAFE courses for prisoners, by 2015 we have seen this number reduced by 20%, with only 7,000 hours contracted for the first semester of 2015. Unfortunately, cost is a major barrier to prisoners accessing this shrinking supply of practical education. For someone receiving unemployment benefits the cost of a Certificate 1-4 TAFE course is $240, whereas prisoners, who are not in receipt of government benefits, must pay $1730 for the same course. 



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Justice Action
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