Staunch defender of offenders' right to learn

15th September 2006 at 01:00
The Prison Education Forum has worked to increase the profile of education for inmates in a difficult climate.

Prisons have been dogged by controversy over the Government's approach to awarding education contracts and low moral among lecturers who generally suffer worse employment conditions than they would expect in colleges.

In addition, a number of attacks have led to increased fears for the safety of teaching staff and tensions between unions and prison governors.

While organisations such as the University and Colleges Union have battled to improve the lot of prison tutors, the forum had always seen its priority as those who have little public voice - the prisoners themselves. But Steve Taylor, as a widely-quoted pundit, believed lecturers' pay and the effectiveness of the education they provide were always linked.

The forum, which was founded in 2000 and became a registered charity three years ago, carried out research which showed that lecturers can expect to earn 7 per cent less in prison than they would get in colleges - even though colleges have most of the prison education contracts.

Mr Taylor has been an outspoken advocate of the work of prison lecturers, once being quoted as saying: "No one comes into prisoner education for the money. People do it because they want to make a difference to people's lives and communities."

The forum has been a regular critic of Government prison policy, citing the size of the jail population, which it says has increased at the same time as a reduction in the amount of education for prisoners, increasing their chance of reoffending.

While being open about serving time in prison, he has been reluctant to speak about it - pointing out the charity believes everyone should be given a second chance after their release.

Mr Taylor, born in Bradford, took up the position of director of the forum in 2004, after a spell working on a youth crime campaign for the National Children's Bureau. He has been a trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform and the British Society of Criminology, and remains a member of both organisations.

After being a Liberal Democrat for six years, he resigned in protest at the party's stance on criminal justice this year.

He has written for every national daily newspaper in the UK and was awarded The Longford Prize in 2005 for his "outstanding contribution to social and penal reform".

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