People with criminal convictions face a number of barriers in accessing and participating in higher education.
A briefing for universities and colleges from the charity Unlock states that less than 10% of people that receive a criminal record are imprisoned, meaning that most applicants who declare a criminal record will not have been to prison.
Partnerships between prisons and universities and a new focus on education means university is an aspiration for some who do go to prison.
A further paper from Unlock, ‘University admissions and criminal records: lessons learned and next steps’, describes the presence of people with criminal convictions in higher education as beneficial not only to themselves but to providers. It highlights that these students will have often demonstrated significant commitment to turning their lives around.
Why does this matter?
A review of prison education published by the Ministry of Justice (2016) states that prison education should empower individuals to:
- acquire skills
- unlock their potential
- gain employment
- become assets to their communities.
Good prison education will also:
- benefit society by building safer communities
- reduce the financial and social costs arising from reoffending.
Unlock’s paper observes how people with convictions also often represent other groups who are underrepresented in higher education.
This is backed up by the Ministry of Justice’s review of prison education, which found that:
- 24 per cent of adult prisoners report having been in care at some point in their lives, compared with an estimated 2 per cent of the general population.
- Approximately 25 per cent of the prison population are from a minority ethnic group, compared with 14 per cent of the general population.
- 42 per cent of adult prisoners report having been permanently excluded from school.
- Nearly one third of prisoners self-identified as having a learning difficulty and/or disability.
- Three fifths of prisoners leave prison without identified employment, education or training outcome.
The Lammy review also highlights ‘blind spots’ for some groups - for example the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population form just 0.1 per cent of the general population but are estimated to account for 5 per cent of male prisoners.