Education for Prisoners

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress.” – Kofi Annan

Latest News

Breakthrough in Prisoner Education Offerings
Southern Cross University Now Open to Prisoners
RAND (Reports on the efficacy of prison education programs)
Prisoner Public Education Attacked
Denying Education to the Willing: The Jeffrey McKane Story
Computers in Cells Roundtable Discussion
Prison Education Public Forum Footage
Prison Education Public Forum Summary Paper
Inspector of Custodial Services Report
Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 


  1. The Benefits of Education
  2. The Right to Education
  3. Access to Education
    1. Computers in Cells
    2. Educational Providers
    3. Additional Training
    4. Higher Education
  4. The Successful Case of Jeffrey McKane
  5. Community Justice Coalition Forums


Education is a basic human right. It opens doors for individuals to lead better lives and for the incarcerated, presents a priceless opportunity for a fresh start. Yet, we find that their ability to receive a quality education has become increasingly compromised. From technological changes in educational systems limiting access to the privatisation of prisons reducing the number of quality education providers, these barriers to education continue to prevail in the criminal justice system.

Providing education to people in prisons is vital to reducing recidivism. A recent study found that inmates that participated in educational programs while in prison were 28% less likely to commit another serious offence than those that didn’t participate. Therefore, providing education to prisoners is vital not only for the safety of the community, but also for the furthering of people in prisons. Providing prisoners with access to educational services through computers in cells is a cheap and effective way to achieve this.

We have the opportunity now to make a real and lasting impact. With enough voices, we can motivate government and prison authorities to review their policies. As you read this on your computer screens, think about how we continue to deny this right to those who need it the most. Let’s change their lives for the better. 

See our Report on the United Nation’s Investigation into Education in Detention.
See also the Community Justice Coalition Forum on Education in Prison 2016 and our discussion paper.

The Benefits of Education
Education in cells improves mental and physical well being, reduction of substance abuse, increasing chances of post-release employment, rehabilitation, personal development and autonomy.

Many studies regarding education in custody have shown such improvements. A RAND Corporation study outlined that American “inmates participating in correctional education programs had a 43% lower recidivism rate than those who did not”. In addition, each dollar spent funding prison education decreased incarceration costs by four to five dollars.

The Right to Education
The UN Report on Education in Detention states that globally, many prisoners and detainees have faced “institutional and situational barriers” during their studies. This is particularly attributable to “the personal whims of prison administrators and officers… the absence of libraries… and educational material” (Munoz, 2009, 11). Australia, as a signatory of UNICESCR, has formally recognised that access to education is a basic human right, further enshrined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1995). It is therefore imperative that such arbitrary restrictions are prevented in corrective and mental health services. New processes such as retraining officers, hiring educational administrators and inclusion of prison libraries are necessary to increase accessibility to education programs.

Access to Education

Computers in Cells
Computer access in cells can maximise productivity in a safe manner allowing access to online education, counselling, and legal services. Empirical data has demonstrated that computer-aided education has a highly beneficial effect on reducing recidivism compared to restricted access.

Online Services
Online services are paramount in giving inmates the ability to utilise education schemes, research databases and outlets.

A traditional literature system is essential, as many prisons do not have the finances to hire teachers or provide computers with Internet access in cells. Access to books allows inmates in custody to learn about subjects of interest, to self-development and improve productivity.

Psychiatric hospitals
See index page. In almost all locked wards there is no access to education, even for young people who are required to attend school. Health Departments regards consumers as having only a mental health dimension, disregarding their rights as people to develop as they want. 

Barriers to Education
Lack of technology is a main barrier within prisons and prevents access to knowledge. It is unreasonable to expect a course to be completed without long-term access to computers and the Internet.

The successful case of Jeffrey McKane
Prior to incarceration, Jeffrey McKane was embarking on a law degree at the University of New England. At Goulburn Correctional Centre, the NSWSC Commissioner repeatedly denied Mr McKane the ability to continue his studies citing inadequate resources and limited staffing. Furthermore, Mr McKane was denied his application to the Supreme Court seeking orders for CSNSW to grant him access to his studies.

This education block was highly disappointing but through Justice Action’s intervention, Mr McKane has gained access to study a law course at Southern Cross University (SCU). JA accessed online lecture materials on his behalf, took responsibility for his student email and administrative matters and provided a retired teacher to supervise Mr McKane’s examinations.

Education Providers
BSI Learning has been contracted as the education provider in NSW prisons by Corrective Services NSW, replacing university-qualified educational officers with Certificate IV in Training and Assessment trainers who are not qualified to work in schools in the mainstream education framework. The result has been devastating for prisoners trying to use their time constructively to prepare for release.

The effect of NSW Privatisation NSW Teachers Federation Report
Effects of Privatisation Paper. This is a careful analysis of what happened after sacking 136 university trained teachers some with twenty years prisoner teacher experience.
Assessing the Quality of Education Paper. This analysis became necessary as the NSW Government insisted that their “new privatised model” would deliver better results using less qualified teachers and less personalised support, as well as ending distance education.

Additional training
Limited Certificate courses are currently provided by NSW Prisons in Construction, Education, Engineering, First Aid, Workplace Health and Safety, Health Support Services and Transport using TAFE teachers attending.  BSI Learning provides accredited learning courses in Hospitality, Kitchen Operations, Construction, Cleaning operations and Language, Literacy and Numeracy.

Higher Education
Some universities and private companies offer modified higher education programs taking into account the little or no access to online courses available to prisoners. The University of Southern Queensland, the leading and largest national provider for incarcerated higher education students operate in Queensland, WA, Tasmania and South Australia. NSW will not cooperate with them despite talking for some years.

Community Justice Coalition (CJC) Forums

Prisoner Education Forum 2016

Prison privatisation has resulted in reduced education quality and has raised significant ethical problems. Prisoner’s autonomy has been limited based on the decisions of private corporations, which are disinterested in prisoner rehabilitation.

Privatisation of prisons has been seen, for example, in the 2016 “Better Prisons” initiative replacing 130 qualified teaching positions in NSW prisoners with administrative clerks. The government described the initiative as a program to lift performance and improve the efficiency of the prison education system. However, profit and efficiency became the long-term aim. 

Prisoner Education Forum 2018

The primary focus of the 2018 Community Justice Coalition forum was the compromised quality of tailored education brought about by privatisation. It was evaluated that this system is a significant demarcation of the poor standards of teaching in prisons.

The 2018 Prisoner Education Forum (PEF) passed two motions resolving that professional teachers be provided throughout NSW prisons with a focus on reducing recidivism and supporting reintegration into society. PEF also resolved that computers in cells should be provided to prisoners as an educational tool.

1 thought on “Education for Prisoners”

  1. Pingback: Justice Action's Current Work

Leave a Comment