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Tagged In:  Substance Misuse
Michael Gove’s recent speech on turning prisons around with a renewed focus on education and ‘earned release’ has been met with cautious optimism. 

The current picture 

Gove’s faced with an enormous task – after all, research from the Prison Reform Trust reveals 47% of prisoners have no qualifications and 20-30% have learning difficulties. We’ve also seen a decline in recent years of available courses. In a recent Prisoner Learning Alliance report, the number of Level 3 courses supported by the Offender’s Learning and Skills Service have halved since 2010. 

This has partly been due to those prisoners over the age of 24 having to pay for qualifications by way of loans. 

The Open University has been quick to express its delight that education in prisons is being seen as a priority, but it has concerns over the success of any potential reforms given the financial vulnerability of some prisoners. 

It begs the question then - could such a u-turn in the UK’s approach to education in prisons be a success?

It seems the UK is not alone. The US has recently re-introduced federal grants for degree level study in its prisons after a 20 year ban. It’s open to prisoners who are eligible for release within the next five years. The decision follows the US-based Rand study in 2013 that found those incarcerated who took part in prison education were 43% less likely to return to prison within 3 years compared to those who did not participate in education. 

It is of course very difficult to make a direct comparison between the UK and US based prison system, plus the US government is funding the education and not those incarcerated. One thing is for sure though, and something Gove himself admits, there will be “technical and complex policy questions” raised. 

Earned release 

Gove strongly hinted at “earned release” for those who work hard to gain qualifications, but ultimately inmates will need to feel the end goal, employment, is achievable upon release.
If it comes into effect it could radically change current policy, which sees most prisoners automatically released on licence to either the National Probation Service (NPS) or a community rehabilitation company (CRC) half way through their sentence. 

If we look at earned release as a concept, it has a dual appeal; to those advocating stricter conditions for release (hardliners) and those favouring penal change (reformists). 

Earned release is not new though – it was first put forward in Prisons with a Purpose, a 2008 Conservative policy paper, albeit not using the exact terminology. The paper called for an end to halfway–stage release and a new sentencing system, where judges would set a minimum and maximum period of incarceration. An offender would be freed if he or she met the requirements passed down by the judge; essentially ‘earned release’. 

Of course, Gove hasn’t provided much more context at this stage, but it’s likely we’ll see an emergence of some of the recommendations from that report. However, he is unlikely to want to see an increase in sentence lengths as there is no spare capacity in prisons. Therefore, the incentive for offenders to learn will need to be strong.

Incorporating substance misuse as a ‘root cause’ of crime

In terms of reoffending rates, Gove hasn’t mentioned what measurable impact his plans could have. There are, after all, many other ‘root causes’ of crime that would need to be addressed as part of a concerted effort to change prisoners’ lives, not least of all, alcohol and drug addiction. A holistic approach would be required, with substance misuse professionals working directly alongside prison education managers. 

Assigned probation officers at the NPS and CRCs would also need to be involved, as for many, continuing education ‘Through the Gate’ is equally important in terms of community resettlement. 

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Angie, 11 August 2015, 07:36 PM
Hi my name is Angie, I'm 21 years old and live in central London. I'm a undergraduate studying Psychology & Criminology.

I would love the opportunity to be a probation officer, the reason behind this is because of my past work experience at Victims Support that really influenced my university choice of taking Criminology as a subject.

To be quite honest, I'm show some concern on how I will ever get the chance to even get the experience I need to apply for the job of a probation officer. The reason behind this is that I can see that a lot of the jobs require experience, something I do not have at this present moment but even the opportunity to be given to me for work experience counts as experience.

What I'm trying to say is if you could direct me in the right way of going about this concern I have shared with you!

Kindest Regards

Sanctuary Criminal Justice, 12 August 2015, 11:00 AM
Hi Angie, thank you for getting in touch.

Unfortunately, as a temporary recruitment agency, the probation services come to us to request short term staff who already have experience and will be able to go in and hit the ground running so to speak.

In order to enter into the profession your best bet would be to contact the probation services directly, and you would also need to undertake a Diploma in Probation Studies. The diploma is working on the job, so you will be working as an unqualified Probation Officer (PSO) until you qualify. Another good idea could be to do Community Payback at the weekends where you can volunteer which may give you additional help to climb the ladder.

Hopefully this is of help. In the mean time while you’re taking these steps towards beginning your career you may find it useful to keep an eye on our blog and also our Transforming Rehabilitation resource - to keep you updated with everything that’s happening in probation. Sorry we can't do anything for you at the moment, but if we can assist further, please do let us know.

Kind regards, Sanctuary Criminal Justice.
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