By Kaelanne Jordan
Offenders, Prison Officer Cindy Poliah of the Correctional Education Unit, Programmes and Industry Department emphasised, are not “forced” to pursue academic classes.
However, the Unit provides academic advisement sessions and through these sessions, they gather relevant information on their strengths and weaknesses academically and assistance is provided to get them involved in an area at their level to attempt a higher-level programme “eventually”.
Poliah shared early release is an option for inmates, “so their intrinsic motivation is high” to pursue classes as special consideration is given for programme involvement by the Court.
Success stories are not far and few as many moved on to university-level education stemming from their academic involvement. Poliah told The Catholic News some inmates were also scholarship recipients from Cipriani College while incarcerated.
“A lot of inmates who came into the prison, not knowing how to read or write would have been released with academic qualifications,” she said.
Ensuring the sustainability of academic programmes over the long term involves implementing various measures that offer ongoing support, resources, and effectiveness. Poliah mentioned the following are being considered:
- Programme Evaluation and Assessment: Regularly assess the effectiveness of the academic programmes and evaluate the impact on participants.
- Collaboration and Partnerships: Foster partnerships with educational institutions, community organisations, government agencies, and businesses.
- Staff Training and Development: Provide continuous training and professional development for correctional staff involved in running the academic programmes.
- Curriculum Development and Adaptation: Regularly review and update the curriculum to ensure relevance, alignment with educational standards, and the evolving needs of incarcerated individuals.
- Inmate Engagement and Support: Encourage active participation and engagement of inmates in the programmes. Provide support services, counselling, mentorship, and tutoring to address individual needs and challenges.
- Community Engagement and Support Networks: Establish connections with the community to create opportunities for post-release education, employment, and support networks.
- Advocacy and Public Awareness: Advocate for the importance of education in correctional facilities to policymakers, stakeholders, and the public.
- Long-Term Planning and Commitment: Develop long-term strategic plans for the sustainability of academic programmes. Ensure commitment from correctional leadership, stakeholders, and relevant agencies to prioritise and support these initiatives over time.
It is the aim that through the provision of academic programmes within the prison, the result will contribute to a cycle of positive change, benefiting both the prison environment and the broader community by promoting education, reducing recidivism, and facilitating successful reintegration.
The effects of its implementation, Poliah underscored, can contribute as follows:
Inside the Prisons:
- Reduced Recidivism: When individuals participate in educational opportunities, they are more likely to develop skills and knowledge that can help them reintegrate into society successfully. Reduced recidivism means a safer prison environment for both inmates and staff.
- Improved Behaviour and Attitudes: Education fosters a sense of purpose, responsibility, and personal growth, leading to a more positive prison environment.
- Conflict Reduction: Education encourages critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and communication abilities, which can contribute to a decrease in conflicts and disciplinary issues within the prison.
- Increased Opportunities: Academic programmes offer inmates the opportunity to pursue education, vocational training, and personal development, providing them with options for a better future upon release.
Outside the Prisons:
- Reduced Crime Rates: Providing education to incarcerated individuals reduces their likelihood of reoffending after release. Lower recidivism rates mean fewer crimes committed, contributing to overall community safety.
- Skilled Workforce: Education programmes equip inmates with skills and qualifications that enhance their employability upon release. A more educated and skilled workforce benefits the community by potentially reducing unemployment rates and boosting economic productivity.
- Positive Reintegration: Inmates who participate in educational programmes are better prepared to reintegrate into society post-release. They are more likely to become law-abiding citizens, contribute positively to their communities, and maintain stable lives.
- Social and Economic Impact: When formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reintegrate into society, they can positively impact their families, contribute to local economies, and become productive members of society.
- Community Perception and Support: Successful reintegration and reduced recidivism resulting from education programmes can change community perceptions of ex-offenders, potentially leading to greater acceptance, support, and opportunities for their reintegration.
Persons interested in volunteering as tutors can contact the T&T Prison Service at 642-4202 exts 3045, 3076 or via email: Correctional-Edu.Dep@gov.tt