Former prisoners and current teachers in NSW Corrective Services sceptical of how outside providers will succeed in delivering effective education to NSW inmates spoke out at a public forum at NSW Parliament House earlier this week.
The NSW government plans to abolish 138 of the 158 qualified teacher positions in gaols, re-classifying some of these jobs as clerical and opening up prison education to private providers.
"I think with horror what it will be like if Corrective Services succeeds in this current endeavour," said Justice Action coordinator Brett Collins.
He spoke in favour of having qualified teachers for inmates and recalled his positive education experience while spending 10 years behind bars.
"Speaking as a representative of prisoners…we don't want to be thrown into some sort of market of strangers to be dropped in and out [of the prison system].
"We want stability. We want the trust that has been built up over decades," Mr Collins said.
"We see this as a foul blow; an act that says we are of no worth at all."
Two teachers explained a lot of time was spent on the sidelines building the trust of inmates as a stepping stone to them being willing to participate in classes.
Education officer at Long Bay Correctional Centre, Helen Robertson said: "It's the quiet interactions that we have with inmates in between scheduled classes where our hardest work is done."
She said telling a person who'd been told during their life that they're stupid and worthless was not someone you could just say 'this is your class, go to it'.
Colleague Ryan Gubbins said: "Getting them over the line [to attend class] when they are problematic inmates is an incredible process and involves everyone working together on the ground; all the time."
"When they trust you, it's amazing, but it takes a while to get there, each and every time," he added.
Former prisoner John Killick feels inmates won't accept the proposed model of education delivery and therefore won't attend classes.
"They haven't got a lot of confidence in themselves. It's hard to get them into the class and it's hard to keep them there every day. It's only when someone expresses an interest in them, which is a genuine interest that you see in professionals [that prisoners become willing and interested in learning].
"To have somebody come in from outside whose done a quick course, the prisoners will pick it up and the repour won't be there and there will be a drop off in attendance at education classes."
"Education is a vital step to rehabilitation and if you haven't got that then rehabilitation will drop further back," he added.
Official visitor at Parklea Correction Centre and TAFE teacher Geoff Turnbull said: "The prison environment is volatile environment and potentially violent environment and the suggestion that a private provider, whose motive is profit, with a Certificate 4, can come in and teach these vulnerable inmates is absolutely ludicrous and beggars belief."
The prisoner education forum was hosted by the Community Justice Coalition and the International Commission of Jurists.
Guest speakers included Federation President Maurie Mulheron. See separate story
Federation is petitioning State Parliament to reverse its decision to end high-quality education in NSW gaols. Download the petition form