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Issue #1739      July 13, 2016

Education way forward for inmates

We are building a wide, strong alliance to take the issues of privatisation of jail education and the jails themselves to the public, NSW Teachers Federation President Maurie Mulheron told the union’s recent Annual Conference.

The announcement of the proposed sacking of almost all existing prison educators had dealt “a devastating blow to public education in jails, a devastating blow to members and to inmates, so many of whom have low levels of education and language and literacy skills.

“We will consider any strategy to support our members,” Mulheron told members. “This is not going to be an easy battle but it’s a moral battle in which we all should engage.”

A powerful lever available to members is a petition to state parliament. The petition asks the government to reverse its decision to abolish 132 of the 152 education roles in Corrective Services and to maintain quality public education and vocational training in jails.

Beyond this, Federation is hoping to develop “a very, very broad alliance” to confront the government on the issue.

The union will work co-operatively with organisations such as Justice Action, the Community Justice Coalition, the Adult Literacy and Numeracy Council, the Association for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, peak disability services bodies and Indigenous organisations. Other unions that work within the prison system such as the Nurses Association will be asked for support. Churches could join the push.

“We want to shine a media spotlight on this issue,” Mulheron said.

The President said the government was throwing caution to the winds in privatising NSW jails and jail services. “Two prisons have already been privatised and John Morony Correctional Centre has been put up for tender for sale,” he said. The government is going to “test the market” on what it would get for it and then other jails could be up for sale to the highest bidder.

There could be little certainty of quality education in a privatised system where teachers are not even to be called teachers but “clerks”.

Mulheron said to accommodate an expected 7,000 extra inmates over coming years to swell the existing 12,000-plus prison population, the government planned to spend $1.1 billion in capital works. “We’re building prisons at three times the rate we’re building schools!” he said.

Speaking in support of the Corrective Services Campaign Recommendation, Corrective Services Teachers Association President Stewart Burkitt said it was a tragedy that Aboriginal education would be taken off the list of courses taught in jails given the high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people.

“With two-thirds of inmates being below functional literacy levels what does the government do? Sack the professionals and bring in the amateurs,” Burkitt said, referring to the decision to sack highly-qualified and experienced educators and invite private providers to supply educational services with no guarantee that such trainers would be qualified or experienced.

As well as the matters outlined above, the Corrective Services Campaign Recommendation states that Federation will seek an urgent meeting with Minister David Elliot to persuade him to withdraw the proposals to privatise prison education.

It demands provision of a broad adult education curriculum to all inmates, including those on remand and that accredited adult education courses continue to be delivered by qualified teachers.

Next article – Taking Issue – What’s next for the Xenophon Team?

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