Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

19: Education (2019)

Standard 19:

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


Education is a vital aspect of human development and is a basic human right. Prison, through its unique environment, can have potentially damaging effects on prisoners. This demographic has a unique and complex set of needs; therefore, efforts should be made to maximise the positive role education can play in this context. The prison population is often characterised as one with a low level of educational attainment. For many, past experiences of the education system have been negative. For this reason, education in prisons should be innovative. It should involve the promotion of forms of non-traditional learning with alternative methods of assessment and accreditation. There is a need for the education system to be comprehensive and to reflect the diverse needs and interests of the prison population.

Current context:

In 2019, a report on education inequality and disadvantage, as well as barriers to education, was published by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills.[384] The Committee recommended that “education programmes for prisoners …[be] developed and expanded.”[385]

Data are not regularly published on the education prison system in Ireland. The publication of this information is vital in order to hold the prison education system to account. Staff redeployment issues and their impact on access to education have been previously documented by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons, who in 2017 stated:

We are concerned that the practice of regularly redeploying staff from educational and support related activities will negatively impact on the rehabilitative opportunities for prisoners.[386]

The importance of education in the prison system cannot be underestimated. A 2019 report of England and Wales surveyed more than 1,250 prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. In answer to the question, ‘What do you need to make best use of your time in prison?’, it was found that:

Prisoners want the breadth of the education, employment and training offer to be increased, and to make better use of technology so that prisoners can access educational materials, maintain family contact, and find information about outside agencies on which they will rely in future.[387]

The report recommends that:

Prison education should be developmental and go beyond basic skills. Any prisoner should have the opportunity to go beyond their existing level of achievement or learning. For example, long sentence prisoners should be able to access Open University and other degree courses before the current seven years from release, and prisoners with pre-existing workplace skills should have the chance to keep them up to date.[388]

A 2018 study of prison education draws the following, related conclusions:

  • Education must be seen as a right to which everyone in prison is entitled to.
  • A broad range of educational opportunities and activities must be available.[389]

It is important that these principles apply equally to prisoners on protection and/or restricted regimes. Access to education for protection prisoners and the severely limited access to education for prisoners on restricted regimes were identified as issues of concern by the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee.[390]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 19

Indicator S19.1: Participation rates of prisoners in education.

This information was requested but had not been received at the time of publication.

Indicator S19.2: Access to education for prisoners on restricted regimes and regular publication of information of same.

This information was requested but had not been received at the time of publication.


All forms of education in prison should be facilitated as a right. Accessing education in prison and continuing education upon leaving prison are central to both an individual’s personal development, and in terms of supporting the transition back into the community.

In its 2017 annual report, the IPS published work, training and education participation rates among prisoners.[391] However, these rates were not published in the 2018 annual report.[392] Publication of this information on a consistent basis is essential to identifying trends towards enhancement of prison education, particularly in light of the reported closure of education centres as a result of staffing issues.[393]

Status of Standard 19: Insufficient Data

Actions required:

Action 19.1: The IPS and ETBI should publish data, as identified in the Joint IPS/ETBI Education Strategy 2016–2018, to assist oversight of the performance of the prison education system.
Action 19.2: A review of the education system in Irish prisons should be undertaken by the Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate


Irish Penal Reform Trust


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