Event notes Rehabilitation through literacy and learning: the role of prison libraries Expert briefing, Tuesday 3 March 2015

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1 Event notes Rehabilitation through literacy and learning: the role of prison libraries Expert briefing, Tuesday 3 March 2015 The Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group explored how prison libraries can best support rehabilitation through literacy and learning. 40% of prisoners have literacy skills so low that on release they are ineligible for more than 90% of jobs, according to the Shannon Trust. The rate of reoffending drops from 90% to 10% if a person leaves prison and goes straight into the world of work. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that in just 27% of prisoners entered employment on release from prison and 47% of adults were reconvicted within one year of being released. 58% of young adults released from custody in the first quarter of 2008 were reconvicted within a year. As digital fluency becomes increasingly important to find work, access government services, and for our health and wellbeing how prisoners are equipped with these skills poses challenges for prison services, government and society. Author, Guardian columnist and ex-offender Erwin James, and prison librarians Kay Hadwick and Kathryn Walter joined Chair of the Libraries APPG Lord Graham Tope for this expert briefing. (Left to right, Graham Tope, Kay Hadwick, Erwin James and Kathryn Walter) 1

2 Summary The expert briefing explored a range of issues, including: Notes The challenge to us all about the role of prisons. How much should prisons focus on punishing offenders and how much on reducing re-offending? An examination of the role of prison libraries including activities and impact. The challenges that prison library staff face, notably barriers to prisoners accessing the library and their services, building relationships with other prison staff, the impact of prison staffing levels and developing positive working relationships with senior management. Erwin James, author, Guardian columnist and ex-offender, gave his experiences of prison: I went to prison 32 years ago for life. I was convicted of quite terrible crimes. I deserved to go to prison and when I went to prison I didn t expect anything good to happen. I was ill educated, I was inarticulate I had no hopes or aspirations of being able to live again or to be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation wasn t a word I d ever really used before prison and it wasn t a word I came across often in the prison exercise yard either. There was a library in Wandsworth Prison I was allowed six books a week and I think those six books helped keep me alive that first year. It was the start of a long dark tunnel and I couldn t really see any place in the future to live amongst decent society again. Erwin described his use of the prison library, I was allowed three visits a week and could have 20 books in my cell oddly that was 30 years ago, now you re only allowed 12 but a library was an amazing place. Initially I used my reading so as not to have to think and then I started to use it to help me think clearly, articulately, and then I used it to learn. Erwin called for more openness and transparency about how prisons works and what they are like: I have seen the media demonising prisoners, the way they make prisons such mysterious dark places. If a journalist wants to get in a prison now in this country you have to force your way in, they still won t let you in unless someone at the press office decides you re a favourite and you won t write anything too damaging, and I think that s outrageous. We should know what goes on in our prisons. In an open democratic society our prisons are there to protect the public but remember that most of the people that go into jail they come out again. 75,000 to 80,000 people a year get released from prison and they are all going to be someone s neighbour. While noting that there were many good people working in the prison service, he said I struggle to give the prison service credit for my rehabilitation I did it in spite of most of what I encountered and I think that s the tragedy. 2

3 It s a challenge to say we need to help an support these terrible people but if we re a noble, advanced and strong democracy, they are in jail, and we need to bring them back out less likely to cause more harm to more victims. Kay Hadwick oversees the four prison libraries in Surrey and provided an overview of how prison librarians work. Kay gave the example of HMP Highdown, a category B holding 1,163 prisoners. She said, Highdown is the hardest to work in because it is a holding prison and the average stay has been between two weeks to six months. The current average stay is 11 weeks. It does make it quite hard for staff to really get to know those prisoners. The prison also holds a high number of foreign nationals, remand prisoners and young offenders. She said this made it a more volatile and unsettled population than in other prisons. On budgets she said We think the resources budget is reasonable but we do need extra money for the staffing costs to allow for extra initiatives beyond the core provisions and allow to cover for staff absences. Kay made reference to the Prison Service Instruction (PSI) which, she said, stipulates that there should be cover now for staff absences so you can keep the library open but there s no specific mention of who pays so that could be a tricky area. She said, Some prison libraries can open with just prison orderlies but the more secure prisons don t do that and there are issues about allowing libraries to open with just the prisoners because they could be subject to bullying. The biggest problem for prison libraries is access. The new PSI allows each prisoner 30 minutes per week in the library and that s up from 20 minutes in the earlier edition. But in practice it s not really achievable with the best will in the world. In the secure prisons where most prisoners need to be escorted access is an even bigger issue because there are various issues that can impact on access such as lockdowns when all prisoners must be in cells due to violent incidents or staff shortages which mean the focus has to be on essentials like meals, court appearances etc." Kathryn Walter, librarian at HMP Downview, talked about reader development projects. She said: Our aims are to create a love of reading in the individual, to provide support for formal learning and opportunities for informal learning. At Downview she said library staff coordinate and manage the Shannon Trust s peer mentored reading programme which is now delivered in every public sector prison in England and wales. Typically we have between 10 and 20 learners signed up at any time each attending five 20 minute sessions per week. She said they get certificates and as they gain confidence they can read the notice board, the TV Guide, canteen sheet, menu, letters from home etc. 3

4 She said Downview and High Down prisons cater for more advanced readers by being part of the prison reading groups project, a partnership between the University of Roehampton and the Prisoners Education Trust. This is sponsored by Give a Book and includes a monthly meeting for an hour. She said this allows prisoners to acquire soft skills to improve their employment opportunities they learn to listen to others, express their own ideas and respect others opinions they learn to negotiate what to read next. There are also creative writing events and Kathryn said: The real value of these workshops is in the mental and emotional process of writing and addressing big questions like Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I go next? She added that the library hosts non-literary events, chess clubs, science discussion groups and legal advice clinics. Prison libraries also enroll prisoners to mentor their peers. One prisoner said that being in prison left her feeling worthless, powerless, forgotten but added that becoming a Shannon Trust mentor gave me back the feeling of being useful. Comments and questions from the audience There were a number of questions on the themes of management and staff, access, and what next for prison libraries? Management and staff Jonathan Robinson, ex prisoner, author of IN IT, and a Prison Orderly in Bedford, said he was grateful to prison library staff but asked the panel to comment on the internal vested interests that block rehabilitation and the missed chances. Erwin replied: The point being made by Jonathan was that I think the prisons seem to be run for the benefit of the prisons rather than for making the prisoner more able to survive after prison. Prisons are little empires sometimes. My experience of jail was that it depended on the governor, the staff and the people running it. Embarrassing incidents such as prisoners having fun, enjoying famous authors coming can be used by politicians or journalists to crush good initiatives. Kay explained that it could take a long time and significant work to get interest and understanding from other staff, such as Prison Officers, in activities such as book groups. Erwin: In fairness we don t encourage Prison Officers to take part in some of these things we divide them, we almost make them resentful. There ought to be some career development for our officers. They can enjoy these experiences too. David Kendall from the Reading Agency said Following on the point of making sure that staff are involved. Over the last couple of years every author event that we ve had this year we ve made sure that prison staff are involved. It s a really obvious thing to do and it works wonders. When Martina Cole came staff were interested in getting their books signed. 4

5 Access Closely connected to the culture and the need for a top down influencer, was the issue of access. Lord Ramsbotham, Former chief inspector of prisons and member of the House of Lords, said My feeling is that where there s a will there s a way and I worry that what you are talking about being forbidden to get to the library a lot of this stems from the top and people not insisting that people get access because I m quite certain that if one wing a day had access to the library then staff could focus on that wing and make sure they got their library time do you feel that there s enough impetus coming from the top to get people their library hours? Tim O Dell from Lambeth Libraries reiterated this saying he had been working with Brixton prison where he said access seems to be the whole key issue and at Brixton it is a massive issue. There is a real tension between government policy and the wish to punish and the evidence that rehabilitation occurs through literacy and learning from the top there s a real problem. Kay said I think all prison libraries have a timetable of access but I think one of the main things recently is the shortage of prison officers to enable prisoners to move from one place to another. I see the lack of officers as the main problem to provide access. Kathryn said There s a discrepancy too, the new PSI states that every prisoner is entitled to 30 minutes of library per week that s not logistically possible. There are over 1,100 prisoners at HMP Highdown, there s not time within the library opening times to have that opportunity. They don t all choose to take that opportunity but we couldn t provide it. Erwin said When I was in Wandsworth getting my six books a week I had an hour in the library on Saturday morning I didn t realise that I was in luxury at the time compared to where we are now we seem to be not progressing. What next? A number of audience members asked what should happen next and how rehabilitation can improve through literacy and learning, and the role of prison libraries. Speakers supplied various solutions. Erwin said The government senses that the people s will is that prisoners should be punished. But they are being punished when they lose their liberty, prison is not a fun time. Because there is the myth is that prison in itself is not a punishment, it follows that we have to do more to reduce prisoners quality of life. Victims groups need to be on board with this too because I ve heard them saying we are not interested in rehabilitation but we should be interested in reducing the number of potential future victims. People who have influence need to be engaged in a more constructive way. 5

6 Kay said: There should be more contact between librarians and the prison governor. At Highdown as a manager I ve had more direct access to the governor which has had a good knock on effect and he is much more involved already coming down to present prizes for the six book challenge for example. When I was working in a prison as a librarian rather than a manager I didn t really see much of the governor at all. At a recent meeting I was able to ask him directly for help and he was writing things down. I though this is brilliant I never had this when I was a librarian. Asked why this is Kay explained, It is just a different relationship he s the number one governor and there s this deference and distance. But if you can break that down it s better and also if the librarians can be on more of the internal committees like the quality information group, the reducing re-offending committee etc, you re just seen more. Asked how it may it work better Kay said, It s making things push down. You can say things at the top but it s making them happen. There are these standards in the prison but you have to make sure that they work on a day to day basis and it does have to come down from the Governor. Graham Tope closed the meeting saying that, in the run up to the General Election, politicians were in a remarkable listening mode. It s an opportunity for each and everyone of you to raise the issues you are worried about. I suspect most other people don t let them know what you think. About the Libraries APPG The Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group was established for Parliamentarians to discuss both the role and future of libraries across the UK. By developing literacy skills, providing access to information and enabling the transfer of knowledge, libraries help to build a fair and prosperous society. About CILIP These are notes of the event and not a transcript. These notes have been provided by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, who provide the secretariat for the Libraries APPG. CILIP is the leading professional body for librarians, information specialists and knowledge managers. CILIP s vision is a fair and economically prosperous society underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. CILIP is a registered charity, no This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this Report are those of the group. 6

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