Traveller education in prison

Executive Summary

5% of the prison population in England and Wales comes from a Gypsy or Irish Traveller background, costing the tax-payer approximately £155 million annually (excluding healthcare and education provision). Gypsy and Irish Traveller prisoners share similar demographic and offender behaviour profiles. This prisoner group also shares similar educational attainment levels on entry into custody – significantly lower than other groups in society. Our research found that:

  • 68% of Traveller prisoners did not attend school or left at or before the age of 14.
  • 48% of all respondents wanted specific training that would lead to employment.
  • 45% of male respondents wanted training in construction or mechanical engineering.
  • 32% of Traveller prisoners had accessed vocational courses.
  • 26% of all respondents wanted classes in literacy and/or numeracy.
  • 9.5% of all learners on the Shannon Trust Reading Plan were from a Traveller background. We recommend that:

  • Entry Level Literacy and Numeracy Courses be made available and have sufficient places for all prisoners who wish to participate without delay.
  • Prison education staff regularly speak with Traveller prisoners about engaging with training and education provision.
  • Regular Traveller Prisoner Group Meetings are held and that the role of Traveller Prisoner Rep is maintained in all prisons with a Traveller population in order to foster an interest in education and to disseminate information on education and training opportunities.
  • Prisons create a positive learning environment by providing Traveller cultural and education resources within the library, education department and generally, across the prison.
  • Prison education departments facilitate the high level of interest amongst Traveller prisoners in pursuing vocational training, recognising that their occupations on release will mainly be in the self-employed and manual sectors.
  • Prisons should facilitate learners with low literacy and numeracy levels in pursuing vocational courses which have a literacy and/or numeracy element. Initiatives that embed literacy and numeracy within vocational courses should be encouraged. Poor literacy or numeracy levels should not be an excuse for preventing a learner’s progression in vocational training.
  • Successful peer-mentoring education initiatives such as the Shannon Trust’s Reading Plan should be facilitated and encouraged both by prison staff and education departments.

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