A second chance to learn for prisoners
Education is at the core of successful rehabilitation in prisons and other correctional facilities. But the vast majority of offenders in prison do not have a good track record when it comes to conventional forms of education.
In fact, according to experts at Stanford University in the US, 68% of adult offenders in US prisons had not completed their high school education. The picture is similar in other countries, with 80% of those imprisoned in Ireland having left school without completing their Leavers’ Certificate.
Hands-on, real-life experiences
It’s clear that conventional approaches to learning may fall on deaf ears for those who dropped out of school. For education to make a difference in prisons — equipping offenders with the skills and attitudes they need to enter employment and cope with life’s challenges — a different approach is needed.
That’s where MTa’s unique experiential learning kits can make a difference. Instead of taking part in traditional classroom learning, prisoners take part in hands-on, real-life experiences that help them to solve problems, work in teams and build confidence. MTa has a proven track-record of working with prisons to provide meaningful education that encourages prisoners to leave their cells and take part in activities that count towards productive time.
Stimulate interest in learning
You could use a wide range of activities from the MTa Team Kit to stimulate interest in learning, develop social skills and give learners a sense of achievement by developing self-confidence and motivation among people who often lack one or both.
Forest Bank Prison near Manchester, England, has had repeated success with MTa’s learning kits. Results included: relief of boredom, increased self-esteem and an increased self-identity, established through social interaction and working as part of a team. According to prison educator Patricia Robinson, both young and old inmates learned reasoning skills, problem-solving and how to deal with social relationships and impulsivity.
“In addition to the improved practical skills developed by the ‘older’ prisoners, they have reported an increase in their confidence and self-esteem, and further development in their personal and social skills,” says Robinson. She adds that older prisoners value the unconventional approach to education offered by experiential learning and that they preferred not to mix with younger prisoners when taking part in learning programmes.
For younger prisoners, MTa’s learning helped to build anger management capability and developed strategies on how to speak to each other when working in groups. It was so impactful that they came back for more. “They have experienced developing new peer groups and have voluntarily participated in other sessions,” explains Robinson.
Prisoners are among the most engaged participants
Other prisons have used MTa’s kits as part of a wider education programme: one prison successfully used MTa as part of the Duke of Edinburgh youth awards programme. To replicate the challenges of wilderness expeditions, the prison used MTa activities to stage its own expedition … around the prison yard.
“Prisons have to provide a certain amount of useful, productive time, and experiential learning is a great way of making that provision,” says MTa managing director Jamie Thompson. “Prisoners are among the most engaged participants we’ve ever had – it’s different and fun for them as well as being useful.
Equally useful for staff development
Working on the front line in a prison presents unique challenges to staff. Besides all of the issues that face anyone working with people additional challenges include:
- the overriding need for prisoner security (involving confinement)
- the potential for conflict between prisoners and between prisoners and staff
- society’s goal of of prisoner reform and rehabilitation which may conflict with prisoners’ ambitions.
Consequently prison staff need to demonstrate a wide range of qualities that include:
- security awareness at all times
- concern for prisoner care and well being
- orientation towards rehabilitation
- systematic and overtly fair approach
- team working with direct colleagues and across boundaries
- leadership, both formal and informally amongst colleagues and inmates.
Three of MTa’s packages are particularly suitable for prison staff, MTa Insights, Coaching Skills and The Culprit.
A complete MTa Insights provides 53 activities together with comprehensive facilitators manuals . The activities can be used to introduce and develop all of the qualities mentioned above with the exception of ‘security awareness’. However developing an awareness of, and sensitivity to, others is covered within the package.
This package was designed to develop line managers as ‘on the job coaches’, but as prison officers have a key role in the rehabilitation of prisoners this directly relevant to them too. The package contains a complete programme which should ideally be run over two half-day workshops which are separated by 4 to 6 weeks.
The Culprit gives participants an insight into the way others see them and shows how people’s perceptions and judgements can be adversely affected by preconceptions. It presented as a problem solving task but the way it is run encourages everyone to observe each other closely and give direct feedback to each other about how they are perceived. The facilitator’s role is to manage the feedback process so that it remains constructive at all times.