Research indicates that there is chronic underfunding of educational training within NSW Corrective Services with the majority of correctional facilities having at least one teaching vacancy. Prisoners are also required to pay TAFE course fees in full because due to administrative doublespeak, they are not defined as a ‘disadvantaged’ group.
Welfare and community justice groups have warned that cuts to education services in NSW jails will reduce future employment opportunities for prisoners and increase their rate of reoffending.
The Corrective Services Teachers’ Association says there is at least one teacher vacancy at many of the state’s correctional facilities.
Former attorney general John Dowd, QC, who is president of the Community Justice Coalition, said education in prisons is vital to creating employment opportunities, encouraging rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, but is being neglected.
“Without education in the prison system, rehabilitation is even more difficult,” Mr Dowd said.
Prison education officers have reported TAFE course hours being cut. Changes under the Baird government have also meant that prisoners are no longer eligible for concession rates for TAFE courses.
A study conducted by the Corrective Services Teachers Association found that of the 26 correctional centres which responded to its survey, 21 centres had at least one teaching vacancy. It is reported that many of these vacancies, including front line positions, have been vacant on an ongoing basis with no external recruitment undertaken.
Long Bay Correctional Centre is one of the centres which continue to report a high number of teaching vacancies, including no Aboriginal teachers at any of its jails.
This is despite a high proportion of Aboriginal detainees, and key recommendations from the Royal Commission’s report into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody:
- That Corrective Services authorities ensure that all Aboriginal prisoners in all institutions have the opportunity to perform meaningful work and to undertake educational courses in self- development, skills acquisition, vocational education and training including education in Aboriginal history and culture. Where appropriate special consideration should be given to appropriate teaching methods and learning dispositions of Aboriginal prisoners. (3:353)
- That the Department of Education, Employment and Training be responsible for the development of a comprehensive national strategy designed to improve the opportunities for the education and training of those in custody. This should be done in co-operation with state Corrective Services authorities, adult education providers (including in particular independent Aboriginal-controlled providers) and State departments of employment and education. The aim of the strategy should be to extend the aims of the Aboriginal Education Policy and the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy to Aboriginal prisoners, and to develop suitable mechanisms for the delivery of education and training programs to prisoners. (3:353)
Aboriginal people make up 26 per cent of the prisoner population yet only constitute 2.5 per cent of the Australian population.
Aboriginal young people make up 50% of the juvenile prison population in NSW, and are 28 times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention that non-Indigenous young people.
For fee and pricing purposes TAFE NSW currently defines ‘disadvantaged groups’ as ‘including Aboriginal people, young people and people with disabilities.’
NSW prisoners are not classed as a ‘disadvantaged group’ and are therefore required to pay full fees for all external education courses, this particularly affects prisoners who wish to study by distance.
Greens MP and Spokesperson for Corrective Services David Shoebridge said:
“We know that the most effective means of reducing recidivism is providing quality adult education services in prison.
“If prisons really are to have a positive rehabilitation outcome then education is essential.
“We should be focusing limited state funds on evidence-based crime prevention solutions, such as rehabilitation and education, rather than the current failed policies of more prisons, more courts and more police.
“If it wasn’t so serious it would almost be laughable that prisoners aren’t considered a ‘disadvantaged group’ by TAFE’s budget. This must change.
“There are significant community and economic benefits if we release prisoners with skills to adapt to a more productive life. This is best achieved by increasing their access to quality education.
“Despite key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Long Bay prison has over 1200 inmates and not a single Aboriginal teacher.
“We know that there are a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in our jails yet there has been a comprehensive failure by Corrective Services to implement policies that ensures Aboriginal teaching in our prisons,” Mr Shoebridge said.