John Lister on the satisfaction of helping prisoners to study

The advice manager at Prisoners' Education Trust reveals how his work prepares prisoners for release into the community

John Lister
John Lister

In my job I visit prisons a couple of times a month with the aim of getting the word about distance learning out there to people in prison, and just explaining what opportunities are available.

I see people's eyes widen when they realise that, rather than sitting in a cell just watching TV, they can start preparing for when they leave.

From day to day, I'll be answering email queries from prison staff. Prisoners don't have internet access, so I get quite a lot of handwritten letters from them too. I also produce written materials, such as our course brochure, so I'm always on the lookout for courses that will help prisoners to get qualifications that will be recognised on the outside but can be done in a prison environment.

I also talk to team members here who are influencing policymakers to feed through what's happening at my end.

This role's great - it's so exciting to see what a difference you can make. The best thing is when you hear about people whose names you recognise, whom you met on a visit, and end up following their stories.

You see people in their final weeks of prison being very positive about their chances of finding work on the outside, or even having already been offered work, because they've got qualifications we've recommended to them and funded.

But it can be frustrating at times because there are a lot of communication challenges - letters get lost, or sometimes we buy someone a course and the materials don't get through the gate, for whatever reason. You have to accept that things take longer than they would elsewhere.

We're working in 120 prisons, and doing a lot of work in about half of them. We're also growing as an organisation and hoping to reach a lot more people with these opportunities, which are life-changing - the statistics show that people who take part in learning are far less likely to reoffend.

Prisoners' Education Trust supports prisoners in England and Wales who want to study distance- learning courses. It also provides arts and hobby materials, advice and support to about 2,000 prisoners a year

John Lister is advice manager at Prisoners' Education Trust

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