Prisons suffer severe cuts to classes

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The Independent Online
Prisoners are being denied the chance to learn their way out of a criminal career as governors axe education programmes to meet the Treasury demand for budget cuts.

A survey of the country's 136 jails by NATFHE - the university and college lecturer's union - has found that some of the most volatile prisons are cutting education services by half. Albany high security jail on the Isle of Wight is set to lose 83 per cent of its programme.

The Independent has also learned that in Holloway - the troubled women's prison - some of the worst cuts have been forced on it, not by the Prison Service, but by Kingsway College, in North London, which won the private contract to run its education services three years ago.

The college imposed cuts of 17 per cent in 1995 and in March this year ordered another 15 per cent cut - each running alongside the demand by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, for "austere regimes" which has led to further reductions in classes and activities.

A leaked section of the interim report by Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons who recently walked out of Holloway in disgust at the conditions he found, found that teaching staff were "marginalised, demoralised and grossly undervalued".

He also found that classes were constantly being cut because of shortages of prison officers and in the three weeks before his inspection the library had closed because staff were on other duties.

Sir David concluded: "This was the worst treatment of an education department and teachers I have seen in 34 years of involvement in education."

Hilary Beauchamp, a teacher at the jail for 20 years, who was awarded an MBE for services to creative arts at Holloway, said: "We were abandoned from two sides - but the abandonment by the educators was the harder rejection."

Yesterday NATFHE said that faced with an ever-rising prison population as well as shrinking budgets, governors saw education as a "soft target".

The union called for an urgent inquiry into prison education as it revealed that jails were suffering a scale of cuts in just six months equivalent to the reductions due to be phased in over three years in the rest of further and higher education.

According to NATFHE, prison lecturers in all jails now have to decide which inmates will be offered education and turn all others away.

"NATFHE is extremely concerned about these cuts ... for the prison population they will be a setback for rehabilitation and the prevention of reoffending," its report concludes.