You are here

Corrections and Rehabiliation – Education Opportunities

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Monday, 6 June 2022

Tags: Corrections, Education

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, according to the Tasmania Prison Service's section on the Department of Justice website, it says that activities for prisoners, which are listed, include activities and opportunities for people who are incarcerated. Among them is education and that also, according to the site, includes a range of educational opportunities provided, including courses provided and delivered by the TPS, TasTAFE, Libraries Tasmania and the University of Southern Queensland. We have been approached, and so have you I understand, by a soon to be incarcerated person who contacted the prison service to investigate what educational options would be available to her while she is serving in the women's prison. The list of available study options was dishearteningly short and included a basic high school standards skills course and a White Card course. There are no opportunities available to her to study anything meaningful in the form of a diploma or degree course.

Education in mainland prisons, such as in Victoria, provides for course material to be preloaded onto computers to avoid concerns that might be presented for not allowing online access for prisoners.

Can you please tell us why the prison service's website says that TasTAFE and University of Southern Cross courses could be available, but it seems that this person has been told that they are not able to access those courses?

Ms ARCHER - I am not sure if that is the complete picture and I am not doubting you. What I am trying to establish here is, first, I don't want to talk about an individual case -

Dr WOODRUFF - Why not?

Ms ARCHER - Because I don't have the consent of that person to talk about their individual case. but I will talk generally.

We are doing everything possible to ensure that we expand the programs available to women. That has been a strong focus of mine in relation to the reason why we have the partnership now with TasTAFE, which was terminated by - I think it was the former Labor-Greens government - and we have re established that connection so that we can have more courses available through TAFE. The relationship with the university that you referred to in Queensland is so that we can have that online course capability. I have just run through an extensive list of computer upgrades to ensure that - and this includes a women's prison - and I established that there were more computers available in a dedicated room in the women's facility than in the minimum-security Vanessa Goodwin cottages, or unit. We have expanded the access to online courses.

There are courses available. It may well be that the specific case you are referring to and the specific course that person may have been looking at may not have been available. We are committed to expanding the list of courses available for both men and women.

It has been a difficult time during COVID 19. I don't shy away from that in any way, but in relation to access to courses, I don't think it is a complete or honest account to say that there are no courses available because there are. I think that is a mischaracterisation. Maybe a particular course that a person was looking at was not available. I don't want to comment on individuals.

Dr WOODRUFF - You are clarifying that it is correct what your website says, that inmates are able to access courses from TasTAFE, Libraries Tasmania and the University of Southern Queensland, and that you don't restrict the sorts of courses they can access. It sounds as though there is only a list of prescribed courses that are available, or am I misunderstanding what you said?

Ms ARCHER - I wouldn't use the word 'restrict'. For TasTAFE, if it is an in person course, it is the availability of the person to take that course which might be the reason. It is not an intentional restriction of the course, it is the availability of an instructor or how the course is going to be conducted.

What I have tried to do as minister is provide some resources to increase the opportunity for on site learning and also online learning so that we can expand the total amount that is available. If we can have an online learning course, then that might be more expedient, or we can expand the list because we are restricted on site as to what we can deliver in person by the reason of our infrastructure.

We may not have the dedicated space available, although for the men's prison we have found dedicated areas for certain courses in education and training.

Dr WOODRUFF - Any online course through the University of Southern Queensland should be available to an inmate to pursue.

Ms ARCHER - Absolutely. I can get Mr Thomas to explain the online coursing and the availability.

Dr WOODRUFF - Obviously if it does not involve face-to-face stuff, but any online course.

Ms ARCHER - I think we might be missing the point here as to what is available.

Mr THOMAS - In essence, any course that the University of Queensland provides online that prisoners may register for coming into custody, our own TAFE team in association with the university does an assessment of that person's suitability to undertake that course - and assuming they are deemed suitable, they can register for the course once they're with us as a student.

Dr WOODRUFF - What would prevent their accessibility from the prison's point of view? I understand the university has its own hoops to jump through. Why would a person be prevented from the TPS' point of view, if the university was happy?

Mr THOMAS - Mainly it would potentially be to do with a classification, and therefore their accommodation, as to whether they can then physically access computers to do the study. You would find in practice, for instance, that in Ron Barwick, the minimum security, most men who want to can engage in that type of study, and similarly in the women's prison since we installed the computer programs room. A number of women can engage in online study as well.

Ms ARCHER - As I just explained in detail about the make-up of the Tamar and Franklin units and what they are for, if someone's in there for behavioural issues, then for the safety of themselves and others, it may well be the case that they're not able to carry out a course or function until they're back into the mainstream, so that may be the reason.