It could be argued that a lack of education is a precursor to committing a criminal offence, which would suggest that education in prison should be enshrined as a right, as a vital part of rehabilitation. Gov.uk states that prisoners have a right to ‘healthcare – including support for a mental health condition’. If prisons are to support the mental health of offenders, it could similarly be suggested that education should be a key part of that support. It is not possible for people to study for more advanced qualifications like A-Levels or degrees within prisons. However, if certain conditions are met, offenders can study for these qualifications via distance learning. The main issue for people engaging in distance learning from prison is the lack of internet access, which many would consider a privilege.
Education provides people with choices and enables them to get jobs that they enjoy, and for which they can be well compensated. When young people are failed by education providers, their options can narrow, and this can result in destructive behaviour, which can include engaging in criminal activity. If that does happen, education in prison should be considered vital: inmates should be given the chance to create new opportunities for themselves. Ex-offenders who have been successful at creating opportunities for work or further study will be more successful at becoming fulfilled members of society with a positive future.
Prisons have a duty of care for all offenders, and this care includes mental health. According to the Mental Health Network on behalf of the NHS, nearly half of new prisoners are considered susceptible to anxiety or depression. Both of these conditions can be alleviated by studying for qualifications. Although other courses of action may be necessary, education in prison can distract people from their anxiety, and give them something to focus on other than negative thoughts and feelings. This distraction can give inmates hope and an ability to look forward to the future.
For people in prison who are studying via distance learning, the lack of internet access can be a disadvantage. Part of the distance learning experience for most people is the online communication and support, as well as the ability to research course specific content via the internet. It could be argued that prisoners should not expect to have the right to internet access, though, even if it would enhance their learning experiences. However, prisons in the UK are rolling out a portal solely for use by inmates who are studying for qualifications. This portal has features similar to the internet, and is designed to support distance learning without extending potentially contentious privileges.
The tabloid media often reports on how ‘easy’ life is for people in prison, and bemoans any privileges awarded to offenders. However, education should not be considered a privilege. If people who have been convicted of crimes want to engage in learning, it should be encouraged and facilitated. Education can be a vital part of rehabilitation, allowing prisoners to reform their lives and create new opportunities.
I'm a former English teacher and private tutor who is passionate about education. I've been writing professionally for the past three years and have written educational worksheets for use in schools as well as contributing to an educational journal. I've also written on every other topic under the sun!