Good news for James Timpson, prisoners want to learn, study shows

Prisoners embrace higher education and want more digital skills, a new report has found

A report carried out by academic researchers at Nottingham Trent University has produced evidence that education is in high demand among prisoners.

The study, “The development of accredited digital higher education distance learning opportunities for prisoners”, also noted that figures from Prison Reform Trust show that higher education can reduce reoffending, which currently costs the UK £18.5 billion per year, by up to 40 percent.

The report examined existing digital learning opportunities being offered by Coracle, a King’s Award-winning, Cambridge-based company, which currently provides 2750 laptops to 90 prisons in England and Wales.

The authors found that digital tools could “bolster an open, learning culture across the prison estate”. They found a positive reaction to courses and a strong desire for more.

James Tweed, CEO of Coracle, says the report should be ‘essential reading’ for the new British government.

“Currently our prisons are overflowing and we are wasting billions every year on reoffending.

“Yet here in this report it is spelled out in crystal clear detail – provide education to prisoners and they will embrace it.

“Prisoners love their laptops as they are the one thing in their lives they can control. But they also provide a chance to work toward a better life.”

Tweed says he is backing new prisons minister James Timpson to create reform.

“I was delighted to see James Timpson appointed as prisons minister. He’s well known in the sector as someone who wants to make things better and help prisoners to lead better lives. This report shows clearly that there is a desire among inmates to improve their lives. I am sure he’ll welcome its findings.”

The report, which was published in May this year, also contains interviews with five prisoners who used the laptops in their cells.

One prisoner, referred to as ‘Learner 1’ in the report, said: “I’m hoping it opens the door to a chance… It felt like I was actually doing something useful with my time rather than just sitting around doing nothing.”

Another inmate, referred to as ‘Learner 3’, remarked how prisoners spend most of their time ‘banged up’ with nothing to do all day apart from watching the prison TV, and said education was a very good alternative. “I’d much rather be reading something on a Chromebook than watching the TV,” the prisoner said.

The report, written by Dr. Anne O’Grady and Dr. Paul Hamilton, noted that for prison education programmes to be successful, ‘buy-in’ from prison staff and from government departments is essential.

It also suggested much more needed to be done to improve digital skills in the prison population in order to prevent “digital exclusion”.

James Tweed added: “Digital exclusion is a major issue and it must be addressed as a matter of urgency if we help prisoners to rehabilitate and to find better ways to live. It should be high on the agenda of the new government.”

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