Chris Atkins, the author of A Bit of a Stretch and The Diaries of a Prisoner, tells us the story how as a former prisoner, managed to gain himself a degree and work towards a higher education whilst behind bars.
Chris Atkins was seen as a rarity as he describes in his article, being University educated when entering HMP Wandsworth which is known for being one of the UK’s largest Prisons.
But he tells us his side of the story and his perspective on how further education during his time in prison changed him but how others may not be so lucky.
Back in 2016 Chris Atkins was sentenced to 9 months in prison for Tax Fraud and was sent to HMP Wandsworth to serve his sentence.
During his time he worked hard aiming most of his time in education which then led him into the role of an orderly. An orderly is someone who encourages other inmates to take their English and Maths assessments and also had the role of marking their tests.
But during his time working with his former inmates, Chris noticed something alarming.
Chris could not believe the low level of literacy seen from his fellow inmates. Looking into the alarming numbers, he then realised that 54 per cent of people entering prison have the literacy skills expected of an average 11-year-old. These numbers came from the The Prison Reform Trust.
Chris soon realised that many of the inmates were working on such a low level of literacy as they had been excluded from school and had not completed their GCSE’s.
“54 per cent of people entering prison have the literacy skills expected of an average 11-year-old.”
During their sentences, Prisoners are supposed to be given the chance to be given the education they never had and offered an opportunity to gain something second time round.
However, Chris says in his article that due to huge cuts in numbers, there were never enough Prison Staff to allow the inmates to get to their classes.
This meant that on numerous occasions Chris would see inmates stuck in their cells, and teachers sat in empty classrooms.
Prison Education: FAR FROM FIT FOR PURPOSE
You may think that Chris’s story is one of the many success stories you will find online. But unfortunately, Chris Atkins tells a different story. He explains that the lack of funding and number cuts has left a trail on forgotten needs and the reality of teaching in Prisons is far from fit for purpose.
Kate Parker explains in her article that the lack in these essential needs has left many of us wondering, will there be anyone left to deliver the education needed in Prisons?
“If somebody said to me, would you recommend being a prison educator, I’d ask them: do you want to be in the lowest paid sector of further education?”
Kate uses a former Prison Teacher’s story to paint the picture of trying to share education with the Prisons. *Ted* explains the true factors as they explain:
“If you manage to survive to the end of the contract, the likelihood is that you can be tuped over to another employer, and therefore could lose your pension. So a, you’re in a low-paid job, b, the conditions are awful, c, the threat of redundancy is always there, and d, you could lose your pension. That is what it is like in Prisoner Education”
Ted has been teaching in Prisons for over 20 years, but just like Ted, so many other educators within Teaching inside Prisons feels frustrated and let down within the system they are working in.
Change is coming: BUT WHEN?
In November 2020, the Commons Education Select Committee announced that they were planning to deliver more needs to the Prisons for their educational needs. They have promised to make plans to deliver the skills needed by employers and the economy and are due to publish a report later this year.
** You can find the full article here ** You can also find Chris’s Podcasts on prison life, also called A Bit of a Stretch, is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.