Thursday, 28 June 2018
Department of Justice and Equality
Prison Education Service
162. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 515 of 12 June 2018, the reason for the significant drop in the majority of prisons from January to April 2018; if he will report on the very low rates of participation in Mountjoy male and Wheatfield prisons; the measures being undertaken to promote and increase participation in education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28512/18]
I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that education services are available in all Irish Prisons and are provided in partnership with the Education and Training Boards and a range of other educational agencies. Broad programmes of education are provided which generally follow an adult education approach. The Department of Education and Skills funds an allocation of 220 whole-time teacher equivalents to the prisons through the ETBs. A Joint IPS/ETBI Education Strategy 2016-2018 was launched in June 2016.
The aim of the Education Service is to deliver a high quality, broad, flexible programme of education that helps prisoners cope with their sentence, achieve personal development, prepare for life after release and establish an appetite and capacity for life-long learning.
The attached table shows the recorded education participation rates for each Prison Education Centre from January to May of 2018. These show that there had been decreases in the participation rates in some establishments in January to April this year, but participation levels have increased again in May. The primary reasons for the decreases in March and April are the Easter break which occurred at the end of March and into the first week of April; the suspension of some classes due to the unavailability of discipline staff and increasing numbers of protection prisoners in custody. There were also some closures of Prison Education Centres due to Storm Emma at the end of February.
In Mountjoy male prison, the drop in numbers participating in education is linked directly to the increasing number of prisoners on protection and the fact that by April all prisoners on both A and B wing were on protection. In response to this significant development, the timetable was overhauled in order to provide the same educational opportunities to those on protection as was being provided to other prisoners. This means that education is provided to non-protection prisoners only in the morning and to protection prisoners only in the afternoon. While this change makes education available to all, it has resulted in a notable reduction in overall participation levels, as many protection prisoners are unwilling to mix freely with each other.
The Progression Unit (Mountjoy West) allows increasing numbers of prisoners to attend external training programmes on a day release basis. These are not counted in the participation rates for Mountjoy Prison Education Centre. There is also high participation in work and training activities, which is not included in the education participation statistics.
In the Progression Unit Education Centre, modules have been developed to better prepare people for the World of Work: QQI Health and Safety Awareness, Work Experience, Customer Services Occupational First Aid, Career Preparation, Self-Employment Skills, Money Management, Soft Skills, Cooking on a budget and Manual Handling.
Participation levels in education in Wheatfield Prison Education centre have been heavily impacted by full and partial closures from January to April this year due to officer shortages and as a result of nationally mandated closures due to adverse weather conditions. Wheatfield Prison Education Centre offers a comprehensive and dynamic curriculum, QQI, State Examination, Creative Arts and Holistic programmes and aims for a high level of student participation. In spite of restrictions due to unavailability of discipline staff, many students completed state exams, QQI and music examinations this year. In 2018, Wheatfield Prison Education Centre recruited new teachers to expand the curriculum. In order to boost participation levels, extra-curricular activities are offered one afternoon each month, a Wellness and Mental Health Weeks was hosted and frequent Musical events are also hosted for the student body. Interviews of prospective students take place on an ongoing basis and students are recruited directly from prison landings and workshops and student mentoring also takes place on some landings. A separate school is provided for the segregated landings in Wheatfield i.e. North-Three School.
The current successful recruitment campaign for new prison officers will enable the Irish Prison Service to increase its staff complement and will greatly reduce the number of occasions on which classes have to be suspended due to the unavailability of discipline staff.
The Irish Prison Service has also put Regime Management Plans in place to manage staff detail when there is a shortfall in the number of staff on duty. This is designed to minimise the impact on prisoners engaged in structured activity including education.
The Prison Education Service works as part of the multi-disciplinary team in each prison to promote education participation, provide a relevant curriculum for students and to prepare them for the transition back to the community.