Going straight starts at three

"RE-EDUCATION, re-education, re-education" might have been the mantra as Scotland's outgoing and outspoken chief inspector of prisons took his message to an audience of educationists. Remedial work in prison is "far too late" for many and part of the answer lies in more investment in early years education, Clive Fairweather said.

Giving the annual General Teaching Council for Scotland lecture on Tuesday night, Mr Fairweather was in his usual robust style as he delivered two key messages - that prevention is better than cure and that prison must be about re-education as well as punishment.

In his eight years as chief inspector, pound;1.5 billion had been spent on prisons. Instead of being seen as penal establishments, prisons should be seen as part of the lifelong learning process, and perhaps ought to be the responsibility of the Scottish Executive's education department rather than justice.

In a surprisingly vigorous insistence that education can make a difference to blighted lives, the former SAS soldier said that instead of building more new prisons money should be diverted "to where the biggest inequalities are: maybe to those local primary schools, maybe the unpopular schools, with falling rolls and with fewer and fewer achieving pupils, many of which are found on the estates in our urban areas".

In an unscripted aside, Mr Fairweather said the seeds of offending behaviour were sown in the early years and particular attention should be paid to the move from primary to secondary school. "After that, it becomes more and more difficult and prison really is beyond the last chance saloon."

He had come across many prisoners who had not done particularly well at school. At Cornton Vale, the only women's jail in Scotland, more than 90 per cent of prisoners left school at 16 and three-quarters had a history of truancy. A third had been expelled from school. The most common qualifications were from modular courses and most of those were obtained in prison.

The prisons chief also called on ministers to put more money into community sports facilities, reminding his audience that 97 per cent of the prison population is made up of "bored males".

Where more resources for prisons are required, they should be spent on young offenders not "old lags", and in particular on young first-time offenders so they do not graduate to a life of crime. Prison staff have to be better selected and trained if re-education programmes are to stand any chance of success.

While prison education staff did an excellent job, Mr Fairweather said, "I believe all staff who work in a prison are there to contribute to a prisoner's relearning experience". He called for basic literacy needs to be assessed at the very beginning of a sentence and help given where required.

Apart from these core skills or particular subjects, re-education also had to involve offending behaviour, alcohol and drug awareness work and anger management.

Douglas Weir, vice-convener of the GTC, praised Mr Fairweather for underlining the importance of offering hope and giving a second chance - and asked whether education could say that these principles underpinned its work.

Leader, page 22

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