Scotland’s jails ‘failing’ on prisoner education

Shaming: Ruth Davidson. Picture: John Devlin
Shaming: Ruth Davidson. Picture: John Devlin
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AN overwhelming majority of Scotland’s prisoners are not functionally literate or numerate, new research has revealed.

Figures obtained through Freedom of Information have shown only 15 per cent of inmates are functionally numerate, and just 30 per cent literate.

Those statistics, which emerged as a result of a FOI request made by the Scottish Conservatives, were gathered through surveys in the country’s jails between August last year and March, and have shown no improvement from 2013, despite assurances from the Scottish Government it was tackling the issue.

The Scottish Conservatives said the “shaming” figures are proof all prisoners should be given work and education while inside, and that ministers should put far more focus on improving literacy and numeracy rates among the prison population.

The Conservatives believe that improving prisoners’ reading and writing skills would increase their chances of making a positive contribution to society and boost their job prospects, thus reducing the chances of reoffending.

In its FOI response, the Scottish Prison Service said those screened at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level four – a basic measure of knowledge – or below were deemed not functionally literate or numerate.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “The poor rates of numeracy and literacy in Scotland’s prisons are shaming for any government which claims it wants to break the cycle of reoffending.

“What chance of full rehabilitation is there if those who break the law are going back to the outside world with such obviously reduced chances of finding employment? This is why it is crucial for prisons to offer rigorous work and education programmes to all inmates.

“That would increase the chances of ex-convicts staying on the straight and narrow after prison, as well as give something back to society in the meantime.

“The Scottish Government has been aware of this problem for some time, but clearly whatever it is doing is not working. We need to see an urgent improvement.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These statistics refer to screening of people entering custody, not to the skills of current prisoners or those who have been recently released.

“We know that literacy and numeracy skills are vital in enabling prisoners to access wider opportunities, including training and employment. That is why the Scottish Prison Service expends considerable resources delivering programmes to prisoners which support a range of needs and, clearly, this includes a focus on literacy and numeracy skills.

“The reconviction rate in Scotland is now at its lowest for 16 years and recorded crime is at its lowest level in 40 years.

“This is testament to the commitment of the prison service, police, courts, social work, third sector, and wider justice partners who are working hard to address offending and its underlying causes.

“We are not complacent and will continue to work hard to help individuals to develop their skills to support them in putting offending behind them and to embark on a more positive path in their lives.”