'Allo 'allo, this looks dodgy

3rd June 2011 at 01:00

The proposed funding plan for learning providers in prisons betrays a failure to understand important issues about the outcomes of prisoners' education ("Prisons plan could be an unfair cop for providers", 20 May).

In my many years in prison education, I was often aware of how difficult it was to measure what might be deemed "success". There are simply too many variables beyond the control of learning providers.

The issue of timescale illustrates this. Should one expect one's students to go straight into a job, however unsuitable for their skills it might be, or should one look at this as a longer-term issue, perhaps over six to 12 months?

Context also needs to be taken into account. Students can demonstrate considerable commitment to education and training in prison, but when they leave and return to a chaotic domestic context, their plans can easily fall apart.

The other issue is measurement. If we take reoffending to be a blunt measure, how do we judge degrees of success? If an offender was in prison for a series of similar crimes and the frequency of these crimes declined when they were released, does the decline count as success? If an offender was in prison for a serious violent crime but on release embarked on only non-violent crime, does this count?

We need critical thinking if we want to measure outcomes from prison education. Unfortunately, this proposal demonstrates an all-too-familiar lack of such thinking.

Roy van den Brink-Budgen, Director, If . then, Suffolk.

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