A Transfer of Powers

Just last month responsibility for education and training in Welsh prisons was transferred from Westminster to Cardiff Bay. It didn't require an LCO or an Act of Parliament ... just a mutual agreement that this was something that could be better handled by the Welsh Government rather than the UK Government under a Transfer of Functions Order. Here are the details:

     Welsh Government website, 1 April 2009

As far as I can remember it wasn't reported in the media, and I only stumbled upon it today while I was looking for something else on the Assembly website. I googled to check, and found nothing except this.

But I found this story on the BBC only the day after the powers had been transferred.


Prison has 'inadequate training'

Inspectors have criticised Parc Prison in Bridgend for not having enough resources to carry out its role as a training prison for Wales. An official report said there were only 70 education spaces for 1,200 male prisoners at the private jail. The Prison Reform Trust said prisoners needed to learn adequate skills to be properly prepared for their release.

Parc said it was reviewing the matter but the local MP said inmates must have up to 40 hours a week on training. Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon told BBC Radio Wales: "We've all got to be worried about that because if we don't use the opportunity while these people are in prison to give them access to the skills that they need to have a different life on the outside, we're wasting the time in the prison."

She said academic staff at the prison were "working their guts off" but they had too much to do.

[There were also] only 289 work places, some of them in contract workshops with too few opportunities to gain work-related skills. At any one time, there were at least 400 officially unemployed prisoners, and many of those in the contract workshops were in fact unoccupied, the report added.

BBC, 2 April 2009

This is just about as damning an indictment of how not to do things as you can get. Prison is not just a punishment, it is also an opportunity (perhaps the only opportunity) to change a person so that they don't re-offend when they get back into society at large.

Most people in prison have poor educational standards, and many probably don't have the skills to hold down a decent job. So education and training must be a priority, but instead they are in chaos. As Wales Online reported in their version of the same story:

The management of the prison promised to address the issues but Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said training at the prison had never been properly funded.

She said: "Welsh prisoners therefore either need to leave Wales or to miss out on the education and training opportunities they need in order to increase their life chances outside prison. This is unsustainable."

Wales Online, 2 April 2009

So, now we get a clearer idea of why Westminster were quite happy to get rid of the problem. And why they gave us a half decent budget for it ... some £2.65m.

But transferring responsibility for prison education and training to the Assembly is no silver bullet. There is no guarantee that we will do any better, but then again we can hardly do a worse job than Westminster has done with the only training prison in Wales, can we?

We in Wales have been willing to embrace several new ideas in education in the ten years since devolution, such as the Welsh Bac and the Foundation Phase. I would like to think that we can be bold enough to grasp this issue by the horns too.

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