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According to a report published by the Forum on Prisoner Education (FPE), prison educators are earning up to 10% less than their colleagues in mainstream further education. The gap is even greater when compared to the wage of an average school teacher.

With the evidence pointing to a higher chance of re-offence amongst prisoners whom are not exposed to education growing as time passes, it is feared that such pay disparities could lead to a shortage of prison-based tutors and a knock-on effect of rising crime rates.

Trevor Phillips, Press Officer for the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), kindly spoke to FE News about the "enormous benefits" of prison education; his frustrations over poor teaching facilities, hampered access and underpaid staff; and the need for a coordinated solution between the education and Home Office ministries.

Quirky Funding Ignores Real Costs

The former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Skills and Vocational Education, Ivan Lewis, once estimated that the cost of reconviction to the criminal justice system was £13,000. Also disclosed, in a recent report by the House of Commons education and skill committee, was the frank admission that "prisoners who do not take part in education are three times more likely to be reconvicted than those that do."

However, rather than addressing the evidence highlighted above, the present funding system is in danger of forcing even the most devoted educators to quit prisons for more secure jobs elsewhere. In the current climate, education providers are expected to take part in "bidding wars" for teaching contracts that last only 5 years before going "back up for auction". Undercutting is commonplace and openly encouraged, resulting in lower pay packages for successful bidders.

Access and Provision Brought in for Questioning

In another report, the FPE reveals that prisoners get paid more to wash the laundry than they do to attend a course. Consequently, most convicts choose the former and receive larger payments, which they can then spend on phone cards, tobacco and stamps, etc. Stretched staffing combined with requirements for constant supervision means that even those who genuinely do want to study are not guaranteed to make it to the lesson.

Further interruptions are caused by the constant moving around of prisoners from one place to another, a point that Trevor Phillips was keen to highlight. He said: "When they arrive at new prison they have to be educationally assessed to find out what their needs are, and so there's a delay that is breaking continuity"¦They may have to start the same course again."

On the whole, Phillips was stunned by the lack of investment in a solution he labelled "glaringly obvious". Apart from the "millions of pounds" of taxpayers" money that could be saved, he spoke about the more important welfare benefits of equipping inmates with the necessary skills to succeed in life, without having to resort to crime; "We would [all] like to see fewer victims of crime," he said.

NATFHE Demand Changes; Tackle Causes not Symptoms

During the last General Election lurking closely in the shadows of the Iraq War was the issue of policing. It seemed that Politicians were eager to grant the apparent wishes of the public to see more "bobbies on the beat".

Phillips believes that such measures only serve to tackle the symptoms of crime and not the cause, and are no more than a gut reaction from a Government under pressure to please misinformed voters. He added that the public need to be enlightened about "the benefits of directing resources towards prisoner education" and that one way of achieving this could be by opening a dialogue with victim-support organisations.

NATFHE themselves, are calling for a change in the contractual process which governs how prison education is provided. They want to see clauses inserted that require staff levels and conditions to meet good employer standards, and are also asking the Leaning and Skills Council (LSC), which is now in charge of funding, to sort out pay inequalities.

"Sometimes the best brains in the world try to find a solution to some incredibly difficult social problem"¦but I think that this one is just staring us in the face," stated Mr Phillips.

Phillip Byrne, Union Affairs Correspondent

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