Monday, November 17, 2014

Gaol teacher speaks out for prisoners

Vanguard December 2014 p. 4
By Louisa L
(Above: Sydney's Long Bay Jail)

Vanguard doesn't bullshit about prisons. In 50 years of publication it's never whinged about prisoners having it easy or the other garbage that Murdoch's media churns out. We tell the truth.

            Prisons are part of the state apparatus for defending capitalist rule.

            As  Anatole France wrote 100 years ago, “The law, in its majestic impartiality, forbids the rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”

            No kid is born wanting to go to gaol. But an utterly corrupt system, that reinforces multibillion dollar corporate profits, while privatising and cutting funds to public schools, hospitals, broadcasting or other services that benefit ordinary Australians, fails too many of our kids.

            The research on the effect of small class sizes in the early years of schooling and on high quality pre-school education, is overwhelming; we can prevent many kids ending up in prison as adults if we spend enough on early education. Do the governments that manage capitalism do it? Not a chance!

Different relationships

            Teachers in gaols try to serve those that end up in prison. In NSW gaols, teachers are paid less than colleagues in schools and TAFEs, so recruitment's a problem and, until they recently won permanency industrially, prison educators were on six month contracts.

            Teachers Federation representative Stewart Burkitt outlined issues earlier this year.        “We don't want a deficit model, as if prisoners haven't got anything to offer. Lots of them are very skilled, very capable,” he says.

            According to Mr Burkitt, teachers are glad that education isn't compulsory, because it allows teachers to foster a different environment and different relationships. “Education is seen is a cooler place, so there are not many incidents,” he explains.

No rights to education

            Remand prisoners have limited educational access, and even that is under attack. They could be on remand for three years and cop a four year sentence, getting just one year of education, but building literacy skills alone could take years.

            Prisoners are often required to undertake offence related courses to get parole, but they need a certain level of literacy to succeed, and many don't have that. This is why a broad adult education curriculum, including art, computer studies, ESL, literacy and numeracy are so important, to bring people into education, to encourage thinking and build capacity, not just to train them in narrow work-related skills.

            Teachers are also mindful that things can change at any time. There's a review into educational provision in gaols, where Burkitt states, “everything is on the table.”

            “The government's aim of shifting all metropolitan gaols into remand will limit educational access, and there's always the prospect of privatisation and contracting out...'Let's get Acme Training in' like they did in the UK. It's cheaper, but duplication, no follow-through and demoralisation were the results,” Mr Burkett continues.

Time to do better

            Mr Burkitt says that education isn't just training for employment. “We're not trainers; we're teachers! All the research demonstrates that those who have engaged with education while in gaol have a better chance of staying out.

            “Therapeutic, well-being programs are integral. They're gateways that bring people to other things. We want to ensure a broad adult education that prisoners need!” he declares.

            Already a 50 per cent funding cut has negatively affected prisoners' ability to access distance education and even basic supplies of pens, exercise books, folders, art materials, etc. as well as teaching resources and access to professional learning.

            We need a system that supports all people to reach their potential. Vanguard is on the side of those who try to create that fairer future.

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