775 words; 3 minutes to read
One of the clearest findings about imprisoned people in Canada is that the vast majority have serious deficits in their education that make it harder for them to find work and support themselves, thus staying out of difficulty with the law. Yet the most recent report of Canada’s Correctional Investigator documents the poor state of education and training in prisons.
(We posted in December, 2018, a personal account of prison education by a former prisoner who worked in a prison school, which is quite consistent with the Correctional Investigator’s report.)
The need for good education programs in prisons is clear. “…nearly three-quarters (72%) of federally sentenced individuals have some need for education or employment; 54% of the incarcerated population have less than a grade 10 education and 62% of federally sentenced men were unemployed at the time of their arrest.” We also know from a considerable body of research, including research by CSC itself, that effective education in prison is associated with better outcomes when prisoners are released, as well as fewer problems and less violence inside prisons.
Report identifies main problems
The main problems identified in prison education by this review include:
– The education provided is far too narrow, being confined to adult basic education, high school completion, and very low level vocational programs. While these areas are important, CSC policies should “…have a focus on moving individuals beyond the most basic requirements to ensure they are well prepared to return to the community.”
– There is an utter lack of contemporary technology. Prisoners have no access to current computer technology or to the internet, yet familiarity with both of these is now critical in most jobs, let alone in other parts of life (such as receiving services). The same is true in regard to vocational training, where “… many prison shops visited for this investigation require offenders to work on obsolete machines no longer used in the community.”
“Federal corrections maintain environments that are information-depriving, often using security concerns as a basis for maintaining the status quo. There appears to be little motivation to improve…” For more than two decades, the report notes, the system has remained ‘steadfast and impervious’ to any effort to improve this situation, as shown by the lack of response to previous recommendations every year for the past decade by the Correctional Investigator.
Not enough places, supports
– There are often waiting lists for school places and for training programs, while in both cases students often miss time because most other aspects of prison are seen as more important.
– Although most prisoners doing schooling have extra learning needs, the system has virtually no capacity to provide special education or to support learners who can’t learn effectively on their own.
– Learning materials, including basics like pens and pencils as well as access to library materials, is often very poor.
– CORCAN is the CSC unit that provides employment for prisoners while ostensibly training in skills as well. However the report notes that most of the skills taught at CORCAN are not really relevant in today’s labour market. As well, CORCAN jobs “…were physically demanding, provided limited skills and were paid the same amount that a range cleaner makes, a position that requires far less investment in time or motivation.” Also, because CORCAN has contractual obligations, the need to meet contract obligations can get in the way of effective training. Overall, “the majority of offenders who were interviewed for this investigation working in CORCAN, were learning very few skills that would benefit them in obtaining a job in the community.”
The report concludes:
According to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, one of the main purposes of CSC is 3(b) “assisting the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens through the provision of programs in penitentiaries and in the community”… the current complement of learning opportunities does not and cannot provide effective rehabilitation or reintegration, particularly given the current lack of focus, outmoded technological capacity and limited resource allocation.”
Money is definitely part of the problem. According to the report, CSC allocates about $64 million per year for education and training. This is about 3% of total CSC spending. Of this amount, about 2/3 goes to CORCAN, which is a production company as much as it is a training operation. However this amounts only to a little more than $6000 per year for each prisoner needing services. Most provinces spend about twice this amount on public schools per student. Yet CSC serves a much needier population than the average public school.
In reality prisons are largely about security and restraint, not about rehabilitation, leading to large public expenditures that actually make public safety worse.