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Education, Guest Blogs

Guest blog: Prisoner Education

Hannah Stokes

Hannah Stokes is a Post Graduate Broadcast Journalism student at Cardiff University.

She graduated from Durham University two years ago with a degree in English Literature and taught in France for a year before moving to Wales. Her journalism beat is education.

  • An exhibition of prisoner art at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre has just come to a close
  • Hannah Stokes has been looking at what Wales’ prison education programme has to offer

By Hannah Stokes

For a couple of summers during my undergraduate degree I worked in the kitchens of an Army Training Camp near where I live.

It was exhausting, dirty, and badly paid.

Some of my colleagues were offenders from the local open women’s prison, who were coming to the end of their sentence.

They had the opportunity to earn some money and get practical training in the workplace, building on what they’d learned on courses within the prison. Ever since listening to what they had to say, I’ve been trying to make up my mind about our justice system.

The Millennium Centre’s PARClife exhibition was a display of prisoner art from the inmates at Parc Prison, Bridgend, South Wales.

There are over a thousand male offenders at Parc, aged from 15 upwards, creating a totally diverse community of backgrounds, skills and experiences. The exhibition ran for a month and Rob Ashelford, Associate Producer at the Millennium Centre, explained to me the impact of the exhibition.

At Parc Prison, participating in classes isn’t compulsory, but the more prisoners contribute to and participate in any aspect of prison life, the more privileges they can access, like a television in their cell.

They can study maths, literacy, computing, and vocational courses like food safety, motor vehicle maintenance, or bricklaying.

Inmates can work inside the prison in the laundry or horticulture department, and there are four industries workshops where production lines are installed and goods produced both for the prison and some outside clients.

On the art side, Intervention classes use painting, sculpture, collage or drawing to help the prisoners express their feelings, build relationships with other offenders, and discover hidden talents. Rob told me why these pieces were an especially important part of the exhibition.

Second, there are the GCSE classes, where students formally learn new skills and techniques and their efforts are rewarded with recognised qualifications. Lastly, there’s an informal subculture of creativity in the prison, when inmates create artworks to trade, give as gifts or simply decorate their cells. Rob talked me through some of the works in the exhibition.

Prisoner Education: Clip three

I asked Rob whether he thought the cost of providing education in prisons, (£918,000 for 2010/2011 at Cardiff prison), could really be justified considering the economic situation. ]

At the beginning of his involvement with Parc, the education team explained to Rob their conviction that it’s being sent to prison which is the punishment: as soon as the offenders arrive at Parc, their care and rehabilitation begins.

Rob and the team at Parc passionately believe that the skills gained both directly, and indirectly, from participating in art go a long way to preventing reoffending.

Prisoners who study the GCSEs sometimes go on to form careers using their new skills, and through the Intervention classes offenders learn team work, communication skills, and hopefully come to understand themselves a little more.

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