Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 22 February, 2007
Other Questions. - Prison Literacy Rates.
Mr. Gormley Mr. Gormley
Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the information his Department holds on the rates of literacy amongst the prison population here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6862/07]
Mr. McDowell Mr. McDowell
Mr. McDowell: The Irish Prison Service report, The Prison Adult Literacy Survey: Results and Implications, which was published in September 2003, is the most recent information available to my Department. The major results of the survey indicated that a significant number of prisoners have virtually no literacy skills and 52% were at level one or pre-level one literacy levels. In other words, more than twice as many prisoners are at the lowest level as compared with the population generally.
Literacy work continues to be a priority element of the prison education curriculum and every effort is made to publicise literacy classes and encourage as many prisoners as possible to avail of them. A number of significant initiatives commenced or were strengthened since 2003 in parallel to efforts to address adult literacy in the community. These include the fuller use of negotiated learning plans for all literacy students; the introduction of and support for the new FETAC level one and two courses; the introduction of the National Adult Literacy Agency’s assessment framework, mapping the learning journey, in each education centre; devising and delivering the 30-hour initial tutor training course devised by the National Adult Literacy Agency and Waterford Institute of Technology for teachers new to prison education; and developing and implementing a national literacy plan for prison education.
An adult basic education development worker is employed by the prison education service with specific responsibility for implementing and supporting developments and initiatives in the area  of literacy, numeracy, English for speakers of other languages and basic education. The need for such developments was highlighted in the 2002 guidelines of quality literacy work in prisons produced by the prison education literacy working group and the findings and recommendations of the 2003 prison adult literacy survey.
Mr. Cuffe Mr. Cuffe
Mr. Cuffe: The level of illiteracy in our prisons is unacceptable. If prisoners cannot read or write, what chance do they have of rehabilitation? The prison adult literacy survey recommended that we should give top priority to prisoners with the weakest literacy skills by introducing a standardised initial screening procedure for literacy as part of the assessment framework currently being developed with the National Adult Literacy Agency, alongside peer tutor training programmes and innovative information and communications technology programmes to attract those who are most disaffected. The report also recommended that the link between internal prison provision and the education services available to prisoners after release should be strengthened. Has the Minister delivered on these recommendations?
The connect programme to improve the future job prospects of prisoners in Mountjoy Prison and its training unit has suffered from a severe lack of funding and many other programmes have also been curtailed. The Inspector of Prisons has voiced grave concerns about St. Patrick’s Institution, describing it as a warehouse for young people who learn the finer points of criminality, which almost certainly guarantees their progression into the university of Mountjoy.
What is the Minister doing to provide basic literacy skills and educational programmes? Last night, I noted that some of the classrooms in Castlereagh Prison were converted into accommodation for Garda programmes. I believe in reforming the Irish penal system by putting rehabilitation at its heart. What is the Minister’s view?
Mr. McDowell Mr. McDowell
Mr. McDowell: I fully agree with the Deputy that rehabilitation must be at the heart of the prison process. At present, 210 whole-time teacher equivalents work in the Prison Service, of whom 37 have been assigned specifically to literacy duties. Consequently, resources are being devoted to this area.
The Deputy referred to the curtailment of education services that obtained during the emergency arrangements that were necessary to confront the overtime issue before the initiation of the reform process in the prison system. Now that annualised hours have been agreed and the system is working on an even keel, the position has improved significantly from the period covered by the reports of the Inspector of Prisons. There is a far better emphasis on edu cation throughout the Prison Service that I have noticed in my visits to the prison system. Now that this dispute has been resolved, a major concentration on, and re-orientation towards, education is under way.
As I noted, 37 out of the 210 whole-time equivalents engaged in teaching in the Prison Service have been assigned specifically to literacy work.
Dáil Éireann 632 Other Questions. Prison Literacy Rates.