Undertaking education courses whilst in prison is a proven way of keeping prisoners engaged and in particular circumstances, limiting re-offending.
There has been a long history of prisoners, including many who have gone on to become elected representatives here, completing third level qualifications whilst behind bars.
So, in the interests of informing the public, we asked the NI Prison Service:
The number of prisoners who have (I) undertaken; and (ii) completed any (a) undergraduate; (b) postgraduate i.e. PgCert, PgDip, Masters; and (c) PhD qualifications whilst held at any prison site since 2010 where these courses have been publicly funded either in part or in full including with or without the use of student loans, broken down by year, qualification and funding pathway.
I would also request that the figures from the first question be broken down by the sentence being served by the prisoner either by crime committed, or by custody length.
The results were quite interesting.
A total of 46 prisoner undertook a third level qualification from 2010-2015, yet only 7 completed any of the third level qualifications we asked about.
With relation to funding, the Prison Service was clear:
In regards to the funding issue the vast majority of prisoners have been financially supported by the Open University (OU) which was available to anyone with no previous higher education qualification. Where a prisoner has a higher education qualification NIPS has, on occasion, provided financial support. In these circumstances the course has been identified as part of the individual’s specific need to assist in their rehabilitation process.
The funding of courses by student loans is not applicable in Northern Ireland, and NIPS is currently reviewing its policy in light of the withdrawal of OU financial support in 2015.
The Prison Service did not disclose what courses the did fund from the public purse. Bearing in mind that a third level degree can cost up to £8,000 per year in some institutions, and postgraduate courses even more, it would be pertinent for the Prison Service to disclose that figure.
What is also interesting is who undertook the courses – i.e. lifers, those serving 20 years etc etc.
Those who undertook the courses broke down as follows: 6 serving life, 1 awaiting trial, 1 time served, 1 serving 6 years, 1 serving 12 years, 1 serving 16 years.
Those who undertook the courses broke down as follows: 4 serving life, 2 now time served, 1 serving 20 years, 1 serving 6 years, 1 awaiting trial.
Those who undertook the courses broke down as follows: 6 serving life, 1 serving over 20 years, 1 awaiting trial, 1 serving 12 years.
Those who undertook the courses broke down as follows: 7 serving life, 1 serving 20 years, 1 serving 6 years
Those who undertook the courses broke down as follows: 6 serving life, 3 time served, 2 serving 11 years, 2 serving 20 years, 1 serving 12, 4 serving 10, 1 serving 16 years, 1 serving 17, 2 serving 6 and 1 serving 5.
Those who undertook the courses broke down as follows: 5 serving life, 3 time served, 2 serving 11 years, 1 serving 20 years, 1 serving 12, 4 serving 10, 1 serving 6 years and 1 serving 5 years, 2 on remand.
The Open University, who funded many of the courses, states;
In 2012/13, The Open University awarded the following qualifications to students in prison:
- 4 postgraduate Masters degrees
- 54 undergraduate BA/BSc degrees
- over 100 higher education certificates and diplomas.
Considering the lower levels of entry qualifications and the personal challenges many prisoners face, this is an outstanding achievement.