Prison programme given lifeline

A government funding win for UCOL has come at the eleventh hour for two teaching staff who had been told their prison education programme and jobs were going to be  scrapped.

Negotiations with the Tertiary Education Commission  secured funding for a UCOL-run Manawatu Prison education programme that teaches prisoners basic automotive and mechanical skills.

Two Whanganui UCOL instructors have been teaching at Manawatu and Kaitoke prisons for the past four years.

Last week, they were told their jobs would be cut as part of the polytechnic’s restructuring plan to meet a funding shortfall of about  $2.3 million in 2013.

However, yesterday the Tertiary Education Commission said  it would fund the training of prisoners next year with the  training to be provided through UCOL and four other establishments around New Zealand saving the job of the two UCOL trainers.

UCOL chief executive Paul McElroy was pleased to have gained funding for an ‘‘important’’ programme.

‘‘Some programmes at UCOL have been caught up in last-minute negotiations,’’ he said.

‘‘We will be withdrawing the notices of affected staff.’’

UCOL’s Tertiary Education Union leader, Tina Smith, said neither the Dean of the Trades School nor the two staff concerned knew the programme, which could train up to 14 prisoners a term, had a chance to be saved as late as yesterday morning.

In December 2007, the Labour government had agreed to Vote Education funding for prisoner access to trade and technical courses. The funding was taken up by UCOL and four other institutes and polytechnics and was due to expire next month.

Department of Corrections director of offender employment and reintegration Stephen Cunningham said Corrections had been in discussions with the TEC to ensure that prisoners’ education was safeguarded.

‘‘International studies show that participation in education and employment can reduce significantly the risk of re-offending following release from prison,’’ he said.

‘‘Corrections is committed in increasing the numbers of prisoners in education and training over the next five years to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in re-offending by 2017.’’

In the past year 2103 prisoners did  literacy and numeracy courses, 5146 prisoners engaged in employment-related activities with 3145 qualifications gained by prisoners around New Zealand.

Manawatu Standard