Published Monday, 13 February 2012
Prisoners are lacking basic education standards, claims a CJI report. (© UTV)
Michael Maguire, the Criminal Justice Inspection NI Chief inspector, said too few prisoners are being helped to address their poor literacy and numeracy skills.
"While there have been pockets of excellence and innovative practice, inspectors found that the situation continues to deteriorate and this is unacceptable.
"One has to remember that the provision of learning and skills in our prisons is a major element in the rehabilitation of prisoners with a view to reducing reoffending.
"If that provision is inadequate in any way then the system not only lets the prisoners down but wider society as a whole," he said.
The report by CJINI and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) said long-standing concerns about the quality and impact of the learning for inmates had been confirmed.
The report revealed that more than 60% of prisoners are below the minimum required level in literacy and numeracy skills.
Noelle Buick, chief inspector at the ETI, said the outcomes for prisoners were often poor.
"The report fully recognises that the real barriers to progressing the provision of learning and skills to the prisoner population, whether in relation to essential skills or to wider vocational training, are a number of difficult restrictive institutional and security issues," she warned.
Ms Buick claimed not enough importance had been put on improving learning and skills methods inside prisons.
In the report, Justice Minister David Ford was urged to consider looking beyond the prison service for further education and training.
"Effective collaborative partnerships with external providers are an important part of the way forward, in particular the delivery of essential skills within the unique context of a prison.
"Collaborative partnerships also offer the Northern Ireland Prison Service a range of options which would prepare prisoners much better for competing in the employment market upon release."
Mr Ford said he was "determined to address" the issues highlighted in the report.
"This latest report shines a light on the scale of the challenge the Prison Service and its educational partners face in delivering, on a consistent basis, meaningful learning and skills programmes for offenders," he said.
Since the last CJINI learning and skills report, the Prison Service has commenced a review of the range of services available to prisoners and how they are delivered.
A draft employability strategy has been developed to ensure that the service provided to prisoners gives them a better opportunity to gain employment after their release and arrangements had been made to fill staff shortages.