My first introduction to the world of Prison Education came when with the arrival of The Clink restaurant at HMP Cardiff. They were looking for training for their front of house staff from partners. We brought in a Transferable Skills for Business from Cardiff School of Management and ran a 10 week non-accredited course to men all of whom were on license from HMP Prescoed.Following this course I was contacted by one of the men, Rhys, who was applying to university as he was shortly to be released. He completed a year’s Access course before he successfully applied to Cardiff Metropolitan University. I mentored him throughout his studies. Read more about Rhys’s experiences and the difference university education made to him here, or you can read about how I supported him here.
In 2015 Prisoners Education Trust (PET) opened a Welsh pilot project to focus on the unique challenge that the six prisons in Wales face (Cardiff, Prescoed, Usk, Swansea, Parc and Berwyn). Supporting non-traditional adult learners was a key part of my work with Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Widening Access team. In partnership with PET and the university’s academic skills support staff – particularly Dr Chris Dennis – we were able to create a Learners Handbook which gave essential study skills support for prisoners on distance learning courses in Wales. You can read more about the project and difference it made to learners here. There have also been additional partnership projects too, such as an interesting collaboration between PET and final year Product Design Students at Cardiff Met, to create a prison education resource. You can read more about the project here.
In the academic year 2016/17 two learners from HMP Prescoed successfully applied to Cardiff Met: Zack & Chris. Both studied completely different subjects but both attended Cardiff Met on ROTL with my support as a mentor or friend on the inside (no pun intended), to ensure that their unique status as both prisoners and university undergraduates did not impede their ability to study. They also both had extremely difficult experiences going through UCAS (the university’s application service) and accessing Student Finance. There are also anomalies regarding learners on license trying to access Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Despite these challenges they both stuck it out and are successfully studying in Cardiff Met just the same as any other student would be. There experiences have clearly paved a way for future learners wanting to study at Cardiff Met (and elsewhere) on license.
Their experiences inspired a “Pathways to Progression” event we hosted in Widening Access (in partnership with PET) where prison professionals and educators came together with education professionals (both further and higher) to ease the transition into education for serving prisoners and ex-offenders. The event was live-scribed by two illustrators from the Cardiff School of Art & Design as a novel way of capturing the discussions in a visual way, rather than through photographs (as there are restrictions on the photographing of prisoners). You can these illustrations and the all the debate and discussions from the day here.
In Spring 2017 we finally began a unique Preparing to Teach course with men from HMP Prescoed that had been several months in the planning. The course followed the successful “Learning Together” model supported through PUPiL – a collaboration of universities and prisons offering learning opportunities in prisons. Almost all the learners came from the CHASE programme, a unique substance misuse programme using education as a tool to tackle substance misuse with men sentenced with a substance misuse conviction. Substance Misuse staff at the prison approached me to run a teaching course, as a way of improving the employability of the men coming through the programme, who often go on to volunteer and even gain employment in the sector. The 10 week programme took a Level 4 module (first year degree level) into the prison and was delivered by two excellent tutors from Cardiff School of Education. Out of 13 students only 4 did not see it through to the end, a quite remarkable result. The course also made the university rethink its own safeguarding policy which was changed as a result of this course, to allow applicants with previous substance misuse convictions to study further on this course.
I was recently part of a panel who discussed Prison Education and how it can empower prisoners, as part of a series of podcasts by the Community Development Podcast. What was interesting from recording was how simple community development principles are reflected in education provision, in a prison context. You can listen below or on the website.