UK Justice Secretary calling for improved prison education

Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for Justice
Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for Justice

By Christopher Zoukis

In a recent speech, newly-appointed UK Secretary of State for Justice, MP Michael Gove echoed what so many prison reform advocates have been saying for decades: education is key to reducing recidivism. In doing so, he appears to be demonstrating a commitment to making prison education a top priority in his portfolio. Gove has called not only for an overhaul of the prison education system, but also for the possibility of earned early release for those inmates demonstrating commitment to learning.  

He began his tenure as Secretary by removing the previous limits to the number of books prisoners could have in their cells.  Admittedly the 12-book ban was actually deemed unlawful by the high courts, but Gove praised the decision highlighting the importance such decisions have for providing the skills inmates will need upon release in order to succeed.

Some critics have pointed out, however, that while Gove is eager to ease the burden on over-crowded prisons through early release and education-based programming, the same emphasis has yet to be placed on reducing the number of individuals incarcerated in the first place. Because education does not only reduce recidivism, it reduces crime itself by tackling one of its root causes: poverty. 

Many in England and Wales have been fearful of announcements to come from the Conservative minister may fall in line with Thatcher-esque focus on efficiency and cost-containment, so the recent announcement comes as some relief to prison advocates and opposition party members. The supposed vision for a “Rehabilitation Revolution” was first expressed by Gove’s predecessor in 2010, and has yet to produce any solution to the problems of over-crowding, cuts to legal aid, violence, and recidivism.  But for the moment, at least, prisoners in the UK may have reason to be hopeful.

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