Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

19: Education

Standard 19:

Every prison provides each prisoner with access to a range of educational activities that meet the individual’s needs and take into account their aspirations.


Education is a vital component of rehabilitation. As highlighted by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality: “Education and training facilities should be available to prisoners to equip them with the necessary skills for re-entry to society after release.” [461] Access to education is important for its own sake but there is also evidence [462] that prisoners who participated in education programmes in prison were 43% less likely to re-offend than those who did not participate.

Current context:

There are currently 220 full-time teachers in the Irish prison system. [463] A current issue is the redeployment of prison staff, which is impacting on the closure of schools and workshops.

Key issues raised in the 2015 and 2016 Annual Reports of the Office of Inspector of Prisons included prisoners’ access to schools, workshops, supports and/or intervention services. The Office highlights its growing concern about the regular redeployment of staff and the negative impact of this on a constructive regime for prisoners. [464]

The response to a recent PQ [465] documents the hours that workshops were closed as a percentage of potential open hours:

Month % Closed Hours
September 2017 31%
October 2017 23%
November 2017 24%
December 2017 28%
January 2018 22%
February 2018 24%

The same PQ highlights the number of days Education Centres were closed:

Month No. of days per month closed due to unavailability of Prison Service staff (other than teaching staff) across 13 Education Centres
September 2017 19 days
October 2017 6.5 days
November 2017 8.5 days
December 2017 16.5 days
January 2018 5 days
February 2018 4 days
March 2018 18 days
April 2018 1 day

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 19

Indicator S19.1: Participation rates of prisoners in education: From 1 st January 2018 to the end of April 2018, 31.85% of the prison population attended the prison Education Centres. [466] Figures outlined in the table below show that the vast majority of prisons (with the exception of Midlands Prison) have seen a decrease in participation rates over the first half of 2018. [467]

Education – Participation Rates

Institution January 2018 February 2018 March 2018 April 2018
Arbour Hill 70.9% 50.0% 52.6% 46.8%
Castlerea 45.5% 33.1% 33.6% 33.8%
Cloverhill 22.9% 19.0% 17.2% 17.1%
Cork 46.0% 38.6% 34.7% 32.9%
Limerick 43.7% 36.5% 33.9% 46.2%
Loughan House 81.7% 59.7% 61.2% 33.9%
Midlands 37.8% 27.4% 25.0% 58.5%
Mountjoy Female 54.0% 39.5% 36.9% 26.5%
Mountjoy Male 19.8% 19.5% 16.7% 18.0%
Mountjoy West 58.1% 42.5% 47.0% 35.9%
Portlaoise 50.2% 44.2% 42.1% 45.7%
Shelton Abbey 55.7% 42.3% 42.6% 49.5%
Wheatfield 23.8% 19.4% 15.2% 19.6%
Average All Prisons 38.8% 30.4% 28.9% 29.3%

Indicator S19.2: Access to education for prisoners on restricted regimes and regular publication of information of same: Recent figures above provided by the Department of Justice and Equality show the limited access prisoners have to education. Reasons given for this include the Easter break and suspension of some classes due to unavailability of discipline staff as well as the increasing number of prisoners on protection. [468] The number of prisoners on protection is linked to a decrease in education participation rates: ordinary prisoners have access to education in the morning while protection prisoners may have access to education in the afternoon. [469] Furthermore, reduced participation rates are also attributed to many protection prisoners being unwilling to mix freely with other protection prisoners. [470] This is an issue of particular concern for Mountjoy Prison; in Wheatfield, protection prisoners have a separate school. [471]

Indicator S19.3: The number of people in prison completing further or higher education (including Open University courses and QQI courses) and regular publication of information on same: There are currently 57 prisoners completing Open University Courses. [472] This compares with 108 in 2008. [473]

Progressive Practice:

Education Initiatives

Learning Together Initiative: Cambridge, United Kingdom [474]

The Learning Together Initiative has been in operation since 2014. The programme brings people under criminal justice supervision and people in university settings together to learn and study criminology. There is continued contact with the university for all students. Prisoners are released on temporary licence to attend and participate in conferences. This initiative currently takes place in Grendon and Springhill prisons. Prisoners reported the experience of being treated differently than when they are ‘on the landing’. [475] In evaluations of the programme, students reported an increase in self-efficacy and self-esteem. [476]

Prison Cloud, Belgium

Introduced in a new Belgian prison, PrisonCloud [477] provides secure IT connections to facilitate prisoners in maintaining contact with the outside world, as well as providing further learning opportunities through the internet and e-learning. A number of services are available through PrisonCloud, including prisoners having access to information on the prison rules and their rights. [478] It also allows prisoners to access their own judicial files.

Actions required:

Action 19.1: The Education and Training Boards should record the frequency and proportion of school closures and identify and address the reasons for this in conjunction with the Irish Prison Service.
Action 19.2: Teachers from education centres must encourage prisoner participation and innovative methods of education for increasing levels of engagement.
Action 19.3: The Educational Training Boards and the Irish Prison Service should publish data on participation and completion rates for accredited learning courses and modules.
Action 19.4: The Irish Prison Service must review staff rosters and leave management practices to facilitate greater access to education and other activities for the prison population.
Action 19.5: The Irish Prison Service must also ensure better access to education for prisoners on a restricted regime.
Action 19.6: The Irish Prison Service must continue to examine secure access to technology in prisons as part of educational development and progression, essential to rehabilitation prospects for life on the outside.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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