The Joint Committee on Education and Skills Report on Education Inequality & Disadvantage and Barriers to Education aims to highlight the areas of improvement necessary to increase access routes to further education for early school leavers, young people in the justice system, and groups most at risk of educational disadvantage. In developing the report, the Committee met with 18 representative groups, including IPRT, over two sessions in 2018.
In our presentation/submission to the Committee in February 2018, IPRT noted that educational disadvantage was highest among prisoners, with over 25% having no secondary school experience, and over 80% finishing school without a Leaving Certificate. We detailed the impact that staffing shortages have had on reducing school hours, with only 42% of the prison population being able to participate in education activities in March of 2017.
IPRT noted that the lack of supports available to prisoners upon release, including the availability of stable accommodation, acts as a barrier for former prisoners to successfully reintegrate into society and gain access to education and employment. The current Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 also represents a significant barrier to accessing education and employment for people with more than one conviction. As well as outlining current areas of concern, our submission made 10 recommendations for policy change.
The Report makes a number of recommendations indirectly relating to the cohorts of people outlined in our submission, such as the recommendation that “all vulnerable groups are named as targets in national policy”. In particular, IPRT welcomes the recommendation that “education programmes for prisoners are developed and expanded”. While this specific recommendation on the access of prisoners to education is welcome, delivery on the recommendation will require commitment to continual investment of resources into the area, including the addressing of staffing shortages.
As detailed in our submission to the Committee, improving access to education during prison is one factor of a wider range of steps necessary to combat education inequality. This should be accompanied by prevention and early intervention programmes to retain potential early school leavers, as well as the reduction of barriers post-release.
Read the Joint Committee on Education and Skills Report on Education Inequality & Disadvantage and Barriers to Education here.