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Education in prison changed my life, all prisoners deserves the same opportunity

A former inmate says prisoners are being stopped from accessing learning materials which could help transform their lives.

Dalton Harrison, 40, who spent a year behind bars and completed an Open University Arts and Languages Access module at HMP Low Newton, says basic provisions such as having a quiet place to do exams, being allowed to photocopy and access the internet are denied to prisoners.

He told: ‘If I hadn’t completed the course, I would probably be on the same path’.

Dalton says he is one of the lucky few who were able to complete a qualification, despite the difficulties he experienced, but that he saw other prisoners who were ‘craving a purpose’, being left behind. He added: ‘I had a sense of worthlessness when I went inside.

‘I understand prison is a place of punishment, I felt I was punished, I was gone, I had nothing.

‘It was education that gave me a purpose and motivation. Yes people committed crime, but it’s about that level of punishment, yet you also have to teach them humanity and how to be kind’.

Dalton’s course was funded by the Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET), a charity that has been running distance learning courses for prisoners for over 30 years. He completed his course a day before his release in 2019.

The charity’s CEO Rod Clark, says that reoffending costs the country around £15 billion a year as well ‘costs to victims’ and that education in prisons is key to reform and rehabilitation.

Dalton added: ‘We had lots of issues inside. There were issues around printing, photocopying, having a quiet place to study.

‘Sometimes the fire alarm would go off when you’re trying to learn. We tried to finish an assignment and many times got sent back’.

‘Once I was trying to watch a Martin Luther King speech, I thought amazing, but then when I went on to the computer an alert came up which said “you can’t access this because you are incarcerated”.

‘What harm could it do if I watch a Martin Luther King speech?’

Dalton was keen to highlight how those on longer term sentences were the most disadvantaged, because they could only apply for funding to study a course until the last six years of their sentence.

Mr Clark says Dalton is not alone in the struggles he has faced.

His charity wants to see more digital learning opportunities in prison, noting that one of the strengths of the courses they offer is that it allows prisoners to have greater flexibility in what they study and can also learn at a speed of their choosing.

He added: ‘I understand the security concerns around digital learning and access to the internet.

‘But there are ways around that. Virtual campus (a digital learning tool) has been in prisons since 2010 and it’s not been a problem.

‘You can control and monitor the internet access prisoners have. You can have tablets that do not communicate out but have learning materials downloaded on them.’

He praised the prison service for its support of an educational agenda in prisons, but is keen to see more digital learning opportunities in prison.

Mr Clark noted how some prisons are not even registered as exam centres, creating a further barrier to learning.

He said: ‘The most inspiring thing is that despite all these issues, prisoners still show dedication to achieve in difficult circumstances, that just shows the hunger people have for something like education in prison.’

Dalton has now set up a theatre company that uses poetry to tell his journey through prison that he is fundraising for.