US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Pink slime economics (New York Times)

On Thursday Republicans in the House of Representatives passed what was surely the most fraudulent budget in American history, writes Paul Krugman.

2. Energy "independence," after all? (Washington Post)

Getting to Nixon's no net imports is not necessary if most imports come from Canada and other friendly countries. The true foolishness of Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline was to encourage Canada to look elsewhere to sell its surplus oil, says Robert Samuelson.

3. Can Richie Rich get to the White House? (Politico)

David Stewart says the rich are supposed to have the same chance of entering heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. He asks: How do the odds work when it comes to entering the White House?

4. Maikel Nabil Sanad draws back the curtain on Egypt's military (Washington Post)

U.S. aid -- especially when granted unconditionally -- simply reinforces the military's position and encourages the persecution of genuine pro-American liberals, writes Jackson Diehl.

5. The politics of going to college (New York Times)

Romney's refusal to promise that he will "give you government money to pay for your college" is a risky approach to courting ambitious lower income voters. Democrats see Romney setting a trap for himself and have already begun to lay the general election groundwork, says Thomas Edsall.

6. Supreme Court should support health care act (SF Gate)

The idea of roping in everyone to pay the health care bills is the center point of the law... It's not a single-payer, government-run system, instead obliging everyone to find coverage, says this editorial.

7. My plan offers a better way than ObamaRomneyCare (USA Today)

Rick Santorum says Republicans need a nominee with the credibility to take on President Obama on an issue vital to voters, and a president who will repeal ObamaCare.

8. An exciting VP? Don't go for it, Mitt (Boston Globe) (£)

For all of the discussion about playing to key states, adding foreign policy experience, or balancing a ticket's ideology, the stark truth is that none of it really matters. In the end, there is only one imperative: don't blow it, says this editorial.

9. Obama's flexibility doctrine revealed (Chicago Tribune)

You don't often hear an American president secretly (he thinks) assuring foreign leaders that concessions are coming their way, but they must wait because he's seeking re-election and he dare not tell his own people, writes Charles Krauthammer.

10. The right budget? GOP wants to kill the "New Deal" (Philadelphia Inquirer)

FDR gave Americans a much better deal. Let's not ditch it now, says this editorial.

The United States Capitol on 19 March, 2012. Credit: Getty Images
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Michael Gove's quiet revolution could transform prisoner education

To anyone with a passing interest in prisoner education it is clear that current levels of education and training are simply inadequate.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove is quietly embarking on the most substantive prison education reform programme for a generation. In September, Gove announced that Dame Sally Coates would chair a review of the provision and quality of education in prisons, the results of which are expected shortly.

To anyone with a passing interest in prisoner education it is clear that current levels of education and training are simply inadequate. In 2014, Ofsted reported that education levels across the British prison system were inadequate, suggesting that “very few prisoners are getting the opportunity to develop the skills and behaviours they need for work.” Between 2011/12 and 2013/14 the number of prisoners achieving a level 1 or 2 qualification in Mathematics fell by a third, and since 2010 the number of prisoners studying for an Open University degree has dropped by 37%.

In light of these damning statistics, Gove’s calls for prisons to become “places of education” is to be welcomed. The most obvious result of improved opportunities for training and education is that upon leaving prison offenders will be more likely to secure employment and less likely to reoffend. Less tangible, but no less important, limited opportunities for education hinder aspiration and prevent the justice system from acting as a conduit to improving society at large. Too often offenders are unable to develop their potential as citizens and contribute accordingly. Education is a powerful force in building offenders’ confidence and helping to engage with their communities upon release: helping to break the cycle of offending.

In tandem with enhanced opportunities for education, skills and training, Gove has promised greater autonomy for prison governors. Currently, the Skills Funding Agency manages the Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) to connect offender education with mainstream provision. Speaking before the APPG on Penal Affairs, Dame Sally suggested that “many governors feel very frustrated by their lack of ability to have any say in the education delivered.  If we want the governors to be accountable, they have to have the autonomy to contract for this for themselves, or employ their own teaching staff.”

The principle of increased flexibility is a good one. A significant minority of prisoners already have qualifications and require opportunity to build upon them. The education pathways available to them will be quite different to those offenders who enter prison with limited numeracy and literacy skills. However, the high-profile failure of private suppliers to deliver even the most basic services, raises questions as to whether major outsourcing firms will be able to provide these.

In 2014, A4E prematurely pulled out of a £17m contract to deliver education and training to prisoners in 12 London prisons on the grounds that it was unable to run the contract at a profit. This was not the first time that A4E had prematurely terminated a prison education contract. In 2008 the firm ended a similar contract to provide education in eight Kent prisons, again citing huge losses.

Recognising such failures, the Prime Minister has argued that his government’s reform program would “allow new providers and new ideas to flourish”, but the steps to achieving this are unclear. Identifying the difficulty smaller providers – particularly those from the third sector – currently have in winning and delivering contracts is a far easier task than redesigning the contracting system to improve their chances.

There are three steps that could act as a starting point. First, a review of commissioning to ensure a plurality of providers, particularly from small and medium-sized organisations should be considered, with payments-by-results the favoured means of remuneration. Second, providers and experts should be empowered to contribute to the reform process that follows the Coates Review’s publication. Third, it is clear that while a universal standard of education must be set, providers and governors should be empowered to experiment and innovate to seek results above this. In sacrificing universality it may be possible to improve methods and achieve better results in future.

Reforming the prison system is not a task that will be easy, nor one that will be quick. To ensure its long-term success it is vital that education and skills providers’ voices are heard and that the government develops forums through which ideas can be shared. For too long talent, resources and time have been wasted through mismanagement and poor provision. Now is the time to reverse this and ensure that the justice system delivers rehabilitation and improved educational outcomes.