Putting your money where your mouth is

Author: | 6 Nov 2023

The Ministry of Justice is promising a new Prisoner Education Service, with more resources, more apprenticeship opportunities, and even a focus on helping neurodivergent prisoners.

Longford Scholar David Shipley draws on his lived experience to ask if this pledge could help more serving prisoners turn sentences into a degrees


Here is the good news. In announcing the new Prisoner Education Service the Prisons’ Minister Damian Hinds (pictured) publicly acknowledged that “a forward-thinking prison system must give prisoners an alternative to the cycle of reoffending, and one of the best ways to do this is through education”. He’s right. Too many prisoners spend too many years staring at the walls of their cells. When 57 per cent of prisoners have a reading age below that expected of an 11-year old, it is little surprise that on release many are unable to find work and so turn back to crime.

But education for prisoners shouldn’t be just about reducing the £18 billion cost of reoffending. Getting time out of your cell to do something purposeful improves mental health and reduces the chances of suicide. When I was in prison, I studied Creative Writing. It not only meant I had something good to do with my time each day, but also gave me hope of a new path and career after prison.

The new Prisoner Education Service aims to make a real difference. They will be recruiting senior teachers as Heads of Education, Skills and Work, reporting to the prison governor. This is a positive decision; prison governors rarely have education expertise, so senior teachers could make a real difference.

Neurodiversity Support Managers welcome

The focus on neurodivergent prisoners is also very welcome. There’s little data, and no systematic studies have been done, but some research suggests that prisoners are 10 times more likely to have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) than the average person.

The same research suggests that a quarter of inmates have ADHD. In this context the recruitment of Neurodiversity Support Managers should be welcomed. When I spoke to the Ministry of Justice, they also confirmed that they will be procuring a new neurodiversity screening tool. This is crucial. Under the current system autism assessments are only conducted at the direction of the Parole Board and, as such, are limited to lifers and those serving Extended Determinate Sentences.

The government should move to systematically test all prisoners for ASDs and ADHD, just as we already assess literacy and numeracy. Of course, this will carry a substantial cost, but there’s no indication that the MoJ has budgeted for this.

‘There seems to be little new money available’

The final big question is how the Prison Service will deliver on these goals. The tendering process for new education providers has just begun, but there seems to be little new money available. This shortage of money is reported to have caused Serco to pull out of putting themselves forward for the new contacts.

Prison education is already desperately under-resourced. This round of tendering presents an opportunity to make a real difference to the quality, range and availability of education in prisons and unless there is substantial funding made available, it’s very hard to see how the laudable goals outlined for the new Prisoner Education Service will be achieved.

Do you feel inspired to share a viewpoint as a Longford Blog.  If so contact our scholarship manager, Clare Lewis.


Reduce Demand for Prisons, Not Meet It

Author: | 22 Oct 2023

Longford Scholar Chris Walters (currently working at the trust’s fundraising manager) shared some reflections on October 22 with readers of the Independent in a personal Comment article for the paper about the plans the government has announced to cope with the overcrowding crisis in prisons. Drawing on his own experiences, Chris questioned whether the proposals will actually ease the problem. We are sharing the article here, with thanks to the Independent.


With the government’s latest plans to address our prisons crisis – the jail population is at an all-time high, with as few as 550 spare places left in the system – justice secretary Alex Chalk asks us to believe the unbelievable. He cites Covid-19 and industrial action as the significant pressures filling up our prison estate. But even in 2015, 60 per cent of our jails were overcrowded.

Again, Mr Chalk lauds his government’s efforts to return offenders on parole who breach their licence conditions to prison, even if it contributes to overcrowded jails as if this didn’t happen before, and isn’t indicative of wider failures in the criminal justice system

Criminals are “dangerous” – except for the ones the government has earmarked under its proposals to free up capacity: those convicted of less serious offences who warrant early release, and those minor offenders being spared a jail term altogether. It is a plan that belies a wilful misunderstanding of the criminal justice system.

‘I’ve witnessed swarms of rats, tried to keep clean in filthy showers, and in 2018, during the freezing Beast from the East, I worried I wouldn’t survive the night as icy wind blew in through the broken window.’

I served two years in prison, from 2018 to 2019 – first at HMP Wandsworth, and then at HMP Ford. Despite what Mr Chalk may believe, there aren’t spacious single cells just waiting to be transformed into doubles. Shoving more prisoners into a cell is hardly a solution to an overcrowding issue. The bleached bones of the UK prison estate have long been picked clean by ambitious ministers just like him who demand that prison governors find more capacity.

And what are these non-essential maintenance works which Mr Chalk says have now been stopped, thereby opening up more cells for use? From all accounts, our prisons are run-down and unhygienic. I’ve witnessed swarms of rats, tried to keep clean in filthy showers, and in 2018, during the freezing Beast from the East, I worried I wouldn’t survive the night as icy wind blew in through the broken window.

All the while prisoners and staff are battling for survival, they don’t have the capacity to work on rehabilitation. And so, when prisoners are released, they often return – and so the prison population rises, and the government responds with a vow to get tougher on crime and builds more prisons.

Meanwhile, there is a growing number of prisoners on remand, not yet convicted of a crime, which is an indication of a wider problem in the criminal justice system. There is a severe backlog of criminal cases – some people are now waiting five years for a trial date – and the government’s insistence on locking people up for longer will not help.

Mr Chalk crassly described the proposed growth in the prison estate as meeting demand, but it’s more apt to say it is feeding a fire. Until there is ground-up radical reform, we will have this same conversation again and again and again.

People on remand are held in prison conditions so poor that two separate European nations have recently refused to extradite people to this country if they face imprisonment. The justice secretary has proposed to increase the sentence discount for people who plead guilty. He said this is to “[…] encourage people to plead guilty at the first opportunity”. Those on remand are presumed to be innocent, and when held in such poor conditions, it is especially unjust and immoral for him as the Lord Chancellor – upholder of our legal system – to coerce them into pleading guilty.

‘It doesn’t matter how good your education programme is if prisoners are confined to their cells for most of the day in overcrowded jails’

The government has given some ground, it seems, almost begrudgingly. Mr Chalk has described Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences as a “stain on our justice system”, and yet only pledges to implement one of the 22 recommendations found in the report by parliament’s Justice Committee, which examined IPP sentences. Further use of community orders and a reduction in short custodial sentences are welcome, but don’t “grasp the nettle”, as Mr Chalk puts it. Most prisoners are serving custodial sentences of over a year and won’t be affected. Moreover, these plans put further strain on services inextricably linked to the prison system such as probation, healthcare and housing. It will inevitably be charities who pick up the slack.

Actual long-term reform gets short shrift from Mr Chalk. He has pledged that prisons will be “geared to help offenders turn away from crime, to change their ways, and become contributing members of society”. But he says nothing about how that is to be achieved.

Prisons minister Damian Hinds has rightly recognised the importance of education in reducing reoffending, promising a brand new Prison Education Service. This is a great move, but meaningless unless the issue of offending is addressed holistically. It doesn’t matter how good your education programme is if prisoners are confined to their cells for most of the day in overcrowded jails.

‘We can reduce the demand for prisons by meeting the needs of our people’

The government is well aware that the most important factors in reducing reoffending are education, employment, housing and maintaining family ties. Yet it seems they are more concerned with increasing the quantity of their prisoners than the quality of their prisons. A quality prison should reduce the prison population, as we have seen in Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.

The justice secretary should seek to reduce demand for prisons by lobbying in cabinet for wider reform. Prison staff and Legal Aid solicitors’ pay must reflect the important role they play in our society. Prisons must meet minimum basic standards to ensure prisoners re-enter society with dignity. The National Health Service must expand and receive more funding to better address mental health issues in the community. The government must do more to prevent homelessness and poverty.

Overcrowded prisons do not exist in a vacuum separated from the other pressures on society. They are the result of inadequately addressing those pressures. We can reduce the demand for prisons by meeting the needs of our people.


With great power comes great responsibility

Author: | 13 Oct 2023

One year into starting work as a Probation Officer, our Longford Scholar graduate Lawrence shares some impressions about what he has seen first-hand – and the power of lived experience in probation

The first person to serve as a probation officer is not known for certain, though some sources record this as being the American bootmaker John Augustus, known affectionately as the ‘Father of Probation’. A campaigner for more lenient criminal sentences, Augustus believed rehabilitation was achievable through understanding, moral appeals, and kindness. As a result of his humanitarian actions in bailing and rehabilitating those convicted of offences, probationary programmes were eventually adopted by multiple states. Almost two centuries later, such services worldwide continue to operate with similar principles and objectives.


My work in the field of probation inevitably started long after Augustus’ death in 1859, but I tell my story because I am now a Probation Service Officer (PSO) with lived experience of prison and probation. In my role, I supervise low and medium-risk people on probation who are sent my way by the courts. I took up my post out of a belief that positive change is achieved when those with varying perspectives come together. I am committed to tailoring probation to the often-complex needs of those serving a sentence in the community, and I encourage engagement with people on probation as part of wider reform efforts. Furthermore, my past struggles are useful in the sense that I can guide others away from similar difficulties.


I speak highly about probation, having seen the commitment of colleagues who go above and beyond for those whom they supervise (known as ‘PoPs’ – people on probation). Together, I and my colleagues work to support those serving a sentence in living a law-abiding and content life. My own time on probation, on post-prison licence, was a positive experience; my first officer in the community wrote a reference for me to undertake university studies. The following probation officers who supervised me were supportive of my continued endeavours, providing valuable guidance on my goals and how I could reach them.


I have since spoken to one of my old officers who expressed only positive sentiments about my recent achievements. To get to where I am now, I had to study hard, volunteer my time, and work multiple jobs (some of which I severely disliked). I should stress there are multiple routes to this kind of role, and there is no correct path to take, just so long as that path does not include committing crime, which I can say from experience is no proper life. There is a wealth of talent residing in this country’s prisons, hidden away from the world like a diamond in the rough. There is always a need for talent, drive, creativity, and resilience in industry, and I am happy to say on record that some of the most impressive people I have come across in life have also experienced the emotional rollercoaster of a prison sentence.


In recent times, the term ‘probation practitioner’ has been regularly substituted as a title for those in that responsible position (other titles include ‘reporting officer’ and ‘offender manager’; though, on the latter, the term ‘offender’ has been deliberately phased out within the service). I particularly like the inclusion of the term ‘practitioner’ because that word, by definition, means the holder of a role is actively engaged in their discipline. There is no half-heartedness at probation, though there is exhaustion and fatigue as a result of high caseloads and emotional stress.

Neither I nor my colleagues do this work for the money. The real reward is the sight of an empowered, optimistic character whose life may have been, at the time of receiving their criminal sentence, in a dire state. I have a capable colleague who speaks with joy about a book she received a mention in; the author of this book is a man whom she used to supervise on probation.


I am somebody who, having been confined by tall prison walls while serving a four-year sentence, does not feel defeated by societal boundaries. Even when my trusted confidants said I had no chance at this position of responsibility and should pick a new role to strive for, I ignored that advice and submitted my application anyway. I took my degree, earned with the valuable support of a Longford scholarship, and turned it into one of the most secure jobs I can think of – where I swiftly took on added responsibilities including representing probation at police and council forums – and was even published in the renowned Probation Journal. Even though I must remain impartial as a civil servant, I will not stop campaigning for reform of criminal records, and my advocacy of higher education opportunities for ex-prisoners continues. As an esteemed officer of the probation service, I see myself as a small part of the wider effort to break down the ‘us and them’ culture that is deep-rooted in the criminal justice system.

If you would like to share some thoughts or experiences on our Longford Trust blog page, contact Clare Lewis, our scholarship manager

Going into Uganda’s prisons: a journey in two parts

Author: | 29 Aug 2023

In July, two of our scholars went to Uganda on a travelling scholarship, funded by the Henry Oldfield Trust, to spend the month working alongside the charity Justice Defenders in the country’s jails. Here Victoria, one of the two, reflects on what was for her a transformative journey. The good things that happen in Uganda’s prisons, she argues, set a good example to the UK

When I embarked on a journey to Uganda on a Longford Trust travelling scholarship, and was hosted there by Justice Defenders, little did I know that this adventure would challenge my perceptions, reshape my perspectives, and leave an indelible mark on my life. For six long years, I had vowed to never step foot inside a prison again, scarred by the wasted time of my previous incarceration. However, fate had other plans as I found myself breaking that vow and venturing into nine different prisons within just three weeks, this time not as an inmate, but as a visitor and advocate.

My Ugandan experience began in the vibrant city of Kampala, where I was immediately captivated by the beauty of the land. The lush forests, diverse trees, and bountiful crops painted a vivid picture of nature’s abundance. However, beneath this beauty lay a complex reality – the livelihoods of many Ugandans depend on agriculture and self-employment, leading to a cycle of imprisonment due to petty crimes.

The journey commenced with visits to three prisons in Kampala – the Luzira female institute and two male prisons. Here, I was introduced to the coloured labels that defined sentences within Ugandan institutions: yellow for remand and short sentences, orange for longer terms, and white for those with death sentences. Inside the female institute, I met incredible women, and their children, each wearing their sentences with resilience. They were part of Justice Defenders, a group empowering individual prisoners who lacked financial means with legal knowledge so as to represent themselves in court.

Helen and Grace, two of these remarkable women, had transformed themselves into paralegals after receiving training from Justice Defenders. Helen’s words resonated deeply: “Courts can be frightening… Uganda v Helen, and it’s mind-blowing, the whole country against me. I hated prosecution when I was in court, but studying law has made me realise they are just exercising their jobs.”

The empowerment these women gained through legal education was not just about personal transformation; it was about helping their fellow inmates and advocating for justice. As I conversed with these women, their compassion, resilience, and commitment to change were palpable. They were eager to learn about the UK’s Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP) and Extended Determinate Sentences (EDS) system, expressing concern and curiosity about its implementation. Their thirst for knowledge was fuelled by their desire to transform not only themselves but their communities as well.

Heading into a male prison in Kampala, the atmosphere felt different. The men were serious, contemplative, and structured. With a focus on helping newcomers navigate the legal system, the male paralegals embraced their roles as “fellow members of Justice Defenders”. Their dedication to legal education and rehabilitation was awe-inspiring. The emphasis on knowledge, articulated with seriousness and conviction, showcased the transformational power of education and purpose.

‘For six years, I had vowed to never step foot inside a prison again. However, I found myself breaking that vow and venturing into nine different prisons within just three weeks’

When my journey moved on to the mid-central Mubende region in Uganda, there was a shift in focus from the city’s prisons to a wider community engagement. Justice Defenders extended its reach beyond prison walls, working to reintegrate released individuals back into society. In many communities, acceptance of ex-convicts was a challenge, leading Justice Defenders to conduct community awareness sessions and radio talk shows, collaborating with legal professionals and community leaders to foster understanding and second chances.

The establishments in Mubende were largely farm prisons, emphasising rehabilitation through agricultural activities. Paralegals played a crucial role due to limited staff, and officers often collaborated closely with inmates to foster personal growth and skills development. The dedication and training of staff within Uganda’s prisons stood out as a remarkable difference from other systems. The emphasis on rehabilitation and transformation was evident, reflecting the belief that every citizen has a role to play in prison reform.

During a visit to the crown court in Mubende, the dynamics of Uganda’s legal system unfolded before my eyes. Plea bargaining took centre stage, with many men choosing to plead guilty to avoid lengthy trials or higher court proceedings. Sentencing in Uganda diverged from what I am accustomed to, and the absence of a formal criminal record system intrigued me. This unique approach sought to reintegrate individuals seamlessly into society after their release.

One profound experience in Mubende was witnessing a prison governor advocating for inmates in court. This personal touch emphasised rehabilitation and the belief in second chances, fostering a sense of hope among the inmates. The stories of individuals like Paul, who had endured years of imprisonment due to injustice, revealed the strength of human spirit and the power of advocacy in the face of adversity.

‘a common thread emerged – the transformative power of education and empowerment’

Throughout my journey, a common thread emerged – the transformative power of education and empowerment. Inmates turned paralegals were not defined by their pasts; they were defined by their newfound purpose, knowledge, and commitment to change. Their dedication to legal education and their communities was inspiring, reminding me of the importance of viewing individuals beyond their mistakes.

As I reflect on my time in Uganda, gratitude fills my heart. The opportunity to learn, connect, and witness the dedication of both inmates and advocates was a gift beyond measure. The experience left an indelible mark on me, shaping my understanding of justice, rehabilitation, and the potential for transformation. My journey with the Longford Trust and Justice Defenders was not just a visit; it was a transformative voyage that redefined my perspective and enriched my life.

Want to know more about our travelling scholars and their trip in July 2023 to Uganda.  Read more here.

What Uganda’s prisons can teach us

Author: | 22 Aug 2023

In July, two of our current Longford Scholars were awarded travelling scholarships by the Longford Trust so they could spend a month in Uganda working in its prison system with the charity, Justice Defenders.  One of them compares what he saw there with what he had experienced in a UK jail – for better and for worse.

Asanta Sana and welcome to my blog about the recent trip I made to Uganda to work with the NGO Justice Defenders. I learnt this chant as I went into Luziro Men’s Prison in the capital, Kampala. It is a sign of appreciation and greets you in the most respectful way. I heard it in all 12 of the prisons I visited during my time there, both in the city and in the rural areas. To say I was nervous stepping into an African prison is an understatement, but that chant made me feel at ease.

I kept asking myself was how on earth had I ended up in a Ugandan prison? Luckily this time I wasn’t getting banged up at roll call. Instead, I was exchanging my experiences of prison in the UK with prisoners there, and learning from the Justice Defenders. It had been a big step for me applying for Longford Trust’s travelling scholarship (supported by the Henry Oldfield Trust) to go to Uganda. I had only been released 18 months earlier and I hadn’t been abroad for 16 years. But like always, the team at the trust reassured me that I would be in safe hands and have my eyes open to international justice. They weren’t wrong…

“Welcome to the Pearl of Africa” read the sign as I landed in Uganda. The humidity was stifling and the insects gave me a warm welcome by defeating my repellent. The boda boda’s were ready.

Driving to Kampala from the airport had me in awe. The scenery was amazing, a 10-storey mansion adjacent to a tin-shack, both surrounded by the greenest of gardens. The closer I got to the city centre, the busier the streets became.  Downtown Kampala is a hive of activity. I could have done my shopping for my whole four-week stay within the first five minutes of arriving there without even leaving the car. Freshly-picked fruits, cleverly balanced on top of heads, plastic containers, and even a set of car window wipers were just a few of the items available if I had wound down the window. This new way of life was going to take a bit of getting used to.

Slowly adjusting to my new surroundings, it was time to meet the Justice Defenders. I arrived at their office, a lovely house transformed into a well-structured workspace with a spacious back garden. The team introduced themselves and gave me the warmest of welcomes. Soon I was on the road again, this time to Luziro Women’s Prison. The prison staff made us feel comfortable and introduced us to the Officer in Charge (OC).

Listening to her talk about the women in her care was touching, her passion and humanity moving. I asked about violence and self-harm, as this is a major problem we face in the UK prison system, but in reply learnt that the OC hadn’t broken up a fight or reported an incident of self-harm since she started running the prison. And she had been there for many years, it is worth noting.

At first it seemed hard to believe, but as soon as we started walking around the grounds any doubt I had was gone. The women were calm, interactive and looked out for one another. The epitome of this came when we met the paralegals among the prisoners. The Justice Defenders’ model is to equip those inside with law- and legal-research skills so that they can use them to represent their fellow inmates.

These trained paralegals do this in the Justice Defenders office, a large portakabin located in the centre of the prison. They have internet access, up-to-date laptops and a library of law books. Each morning, the paralegals open their surgery and interview fellow prisoners. They are trained to look for unfair practice, misapplication of the law and mitigating circumstances. When they identify any of these, they will advocate on behalf of the inmate. Watching them in action was astounding for me. We have similar mentoring going on in UK prisons but there always seemed, to me anyway, a power imbalance where inmates often disliked being told what to do by a fellow inmate. Yet this model was replicated in all of the prisons I visited. After a bit of thought, I put it down to the Justice Defenders.

In Uganda, legal aid is not a thing. Therefore, if you have no money, the only way, to get help with your case is through taking advice from a prisoner-paralegal.

It explains why the Justice Defenders are heralded as “gods” within the Ugandan prison system. In visit, the inmates and staff would perform poems and sing music all in praise of Justice Defenders. I felt lucky to be a part of a team that had such a powerful impact on people’s lives.

I found it difficult delivering sessions to those in the prisons on stress management since those listening to me seemed super chilled and happy. However, once I had gained the trust of the prisoners, they opened up and spoke about how the cramped conditions often left them feeling stressed and claustrophobic.

Seeing the way they had to live, and hearing the accounts of how tough that was, made me feel very emotional. Most of the prisons are overcrowded, and the small living space available had almost ten times the optimal capacity housed there. It was a sight for sore eyes. How do you remain hopeful and energetic in such conditions, I asked the guys. They simply answered, “we have each other, and we get some nice food”.

Such a positive attitude made the conditions easier to bear. Some in the men’s prisons referred to the OC as “Father”, testament to the way they are looked after. It really felt like a family unit in most of the prisons.

So, what have I brought back from visiting prisons and the courts in Uganda? Gratitude for the UK legal aid system for one thing. Having access to legal representation, regardless of income, is vital in a fair justice system. My biggest conundrum is wondering how our system is so violent and rates of self-harm are so high when, in a system in Uganda with such challenging conditions, there are no such problems. I still haven’t come up with an answer, but I am working on it.

On a personal level, I am following the Ugandan tradition of being appreciative for the good things I have in my life. And I am more committed than ever to prison reform as well as truly grateful for the opportunity made possible by the Longford Trust, the Henry Oldfield Trust and Justice Defenders.

More details of our travelling scholarships as part of our employability programme




Closing the Education Gap for Prisoners

Author: | 28 May 2023

Prison is often described as ‘a microcosm of society’ but that bears little resemblance to what goes on behind the walls, reports our current Longford Scholar Carolyn*, who is doing a PhD in women’s education provision in prisons. So much potential is going to waste because of the failure of prison education to provide the challenges that match the needs and hopes of prison learners.

During my induction at my first prison, like all new prisoners, I undertook initial education assessments. These are designed to provide a snapshot of ability. The prison teachers then looked at the floor while explaining to me that prison rules required me to undertake Level 2 English and Maths qualifications, despite me having been a teacher before my interaction with the criminal justice system, with a degree in English Literature, a PGCE and a Masters degree in education. My experience of education in custody was from the start characterized by frustration, inflexibility and short-sightedness.

No other accredited qualifications were available at the prison. Instead, I applied for an external course funded by the Prisoners’ Education Trust. I chose Copy Editing but, when I was transferred to a different prison, my course book was lost in the move. I was told I was unable to request new materials or take on a new course without completing the first.

Failing has no consequences

In 2021-22, Ofsted inspections were carried out in 22 prisons. Only one was deemed to be offering a decent standard of education. If similar results had been reported by the same organization for 22 schools outside the prison walls, urgent action would have been taken, new staff brought in, and ‘special measures’ imposed. In prison, such poor judgements appear to have no consequences at all.

The 2022 Ofsted report of my first prison found that the education department ‘requires improvement’ across all five of its categories. Whilst this two-word judgement captures much of my experience there, however, it does not reflect the handful of wonderful, supportive and inspiring teachers, committed to improving the attainment and prospects of their learners. If only they could be given autonomy to do their jobs, and offer basic training in any areas learners want to upskill in, real and positive change could be achieved.

The ups and downs

My second prison was at the other end of the M4.  In contrast to the first, it seemed to be an educational utopia with a much wider curriculum, including many qualifications on offer, all of which were consistently oversubscribed. I jumped at the opportunity to take the Level 2 Fitness Instructor course. And when I wasn’t in the gym, I could usually be found in the gardens doing a horticulture qualification.

When I was released from prison towards the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, this learning became the foundation for a lockdown project to redesign part of my parents’ garden. Both of the courses I took in that second prison also arguably benefitted my mindfulness and wellbeing but still I was left wondering to what extend they had been successful and elevating in an educational capacity.

Employed as a Teaching Assistant at the second prison, my role was to support other prison learners with the Functional Skills courses (equivalent to GCSE level in English and maths). Those who made progress took pride in their achievements, but I also noticed that some made little-to-no progress. When I asked them about it, they openly explained that they failed the exams on purpose to ensure that they could stay on the course, in a warm and dry classroom, with ready access to biscuits. If they had passed it, they said, it would have automatically resulted in being timetabled to work in the gardens or kitchens.

Gender stereotyping

Like many others in prison, I experienced the disparity that exists in the regime there between the systemic dismantling of the self and the confiscation of agency on the one hand, and the expectation that I would better myself and magically emerge rehabilitated on the other. The futility and Kafka-esque routine of prison dampens motivation and aspiration. Yet prisons are teeming with untapped potential desperate to be harnessed.

As a minute 4% of the total prison population in the UK, women often feel sidelined in a prison system that is not built for them. The education arena is no different. As an education offer, hair and beauty courses cater for a tiny proportion of the female cohort, but the reality is that women in prison want to improve their circumstances as long as there is relevant opportunity. Less gender-stereotyped courses would be enthusiastically received. Accredited and practical courses such as catering and hospitality are, to be fair, becoming increasingly more available in prisons. This is excellent progress but there is still a long way to go to meet the needs of women in prison.

What success looks like

There is potential for prisons to reduce radically the cost of reoffending (standing at £18.1 billion per year, according to published Ministry of Justice figures in 2019) across the board. At the very least what is needed is a review of the current limited education offer for women and the introduction of some intelligent changes. The availability of education at an appropriate level is paramount, as is curriculum content that will support a woman to invest in a positive future on release. Access to improved digital learning tools, and also supervised access to the internet, would help to level the playing field, especially for those taking distance learning courses.

My experience of prison education was mixed but it has given me the blueprint for my research PhD – exploring women’s experiences of, and access to, education in prison. With the support of a Longford Scholarship and mentor, I am keen to begin exploring a gender-responsive and trauma-informed approach to education in women’s prisons. This would mean that women in prison have access to education opportunities to help them elevate their circumstances and live a positive future, free from crime. This could have a significant positive impact on intergenerational offending, and hence reducing offending rates for both men and women.

 (*Scholar’s name has been changed)

If you feel you could benefit from a Longford Scholarship, or know someone who could, contact Clare Lewis for details about how to apply.



How the post-exam challenge of ‘what next?’ became do-able

Author: | 3 May 2023

A key part of a Longford Scholarship is the Employability support given to all award-holders to turn a degree into a degree-level job when they graduate.  For Longford Blog, our scholar Hugh describes the benefits of attending our recent all-day employability training session, run by the trust in partnership with StandOut.

A handful of us scholars met at Friends’ House in London on April 18.  Some of us have been buried in our final uni assignments but, as we emerge from those tunnels, it can feel a bit startling to be faced with the prospect of ‘what’s next?’ We’re all caught in the bit between university finishing and the rest of life beginning. The StandOut trainers were on hand to help us to clarify and quantify the steps we need to take to turn our grades into jobs.

Navigating Disclosure

Covering a cross-section of topics, Alex, Hannah and Erin introduced us to thinking about how to break down our next steps so we can feel confident bringing both our newly-acquired qualifications and our unorthodox life-experiences to the workplace.  We shared many anxieties with each other, such as: how to present as a confident candidate; how to navigate that, often tricky, topic of disclosure; and what is commonly the slog of mounting a concerted campaign of job-searching.

The latter can be deflating and long. So, understanding our internal relationship with how we might approach the jobs’ market was particularly useful. As we heard, treating the job search as a job in itself can help us in both pacing ourselves over a potentially lengthy task, and in structuring it to reduce that time as much as possible. We learned how effective it can be, for example, to really think about where we might look for vacancies we want – who the gatekeepers are of the graduate roles we might be seeking? It gave me a lot of confidence in rethinking my next moves.

Building connections

Considering it all took place on one day, we managed to cover so many useful topics. Networking, Alex explained, was better thought of as ‘building connections’. This meant that we would approach opportunities to do so with the right mindset. We were more likely to come across naturally – more honestly- if we started from a more human, and less transactional position. Thinking about how we might research specific sector knowledge would enable us to uncover connections we might have otherwise missed. Signing up to newsletters and other mailing subscriptions for important organisations in our chosen fields would give us the best chances of being exposed to opportunities.

Social capital

What was clear to those of us in the room is that the sort of inside informationdistilled to us by the StandOut trainers- is often taken for granted by those who follow a ‘traditional’ trajectory through education and the early part of their vocational lives. When strong social structures support you through secondary school and you’re lucky enough to go to university and beyond, you get to learn the tricks and tips for finding more lucrative jobs.

For those of us who, maybe, took a different path, and had previously found themselves unsupported, it is often the case that this ‘social capital’ tends to allude us. The Longford Trust and StandOut were helping to even the playing field for those of us still trying to turn our lives around. Now we know about ‘the hidden market’, as our peers do. And we have the skills and valuable knowledge to bring to those industries too.

Realising our potential

Our group, as is indicative of a collective of Longford Scholars, had a wide variation in interests and talents. Some of us explicitly wanted to enter the Criminal Justice Sector as ‘lived-experts’- people who wanted to use their experiences (both the skills we have and the lessons from our own mistakes) as tools to help others in similarly difficult situations. Others wanted to pursue a life that had little to do with where they may have been before.

But in every case, our experiences had taught us some common things. We all understood the power and importance of giving people the opportunities to realise their value. The difference having the right, versus the wrong, information in going about our job searches was also realised in the group.

Bespoke job search support

In spite of covering so much in such a condensed time-slot, StandOut had also committed to supporting us going forward. We have all been booked in with a member of the team to discuss our individual plans and challenges in one-on-one sessions in the coming weeks. We’ll have the chance to set out a bespoke strategy for refining our job search.

The result is that I already feel like I’ve a better chance of finding something suitably challenging. But I knew, as I left the StandOut session, that there were many personal obstacles to simply jumping back into employment. Still I feel eager to work through those in the coming weeks and that’s down to the Longford Trust and StandOut. They make an outstanding collaboration. If you’re a scholar, I implore you to StandOut by booking yourself on the next course!

The next employability training course run by the Longford Trust and StandOut is being planned for the autumn. If you want to reserve a place, contact our Employability Manager, Abi Andrews.

Why a university education has been a win-win for me

Author: | 19 Apr 2023

David is a psychology student at an East of England university. He left school with no qualifications and has had to work hard to get on the course, and stay on it, but now having passed the half-way point he feels, he writes, that he finally has a voice.

It wasn’t easy going into higher education when I left prison. I had got no GCSEs at school and had been in and out of prison most of my life, working on building sites in-between sentences. Then one day I decided I no longer wanted to plaster walls for a living. I wanted to go to university.

I started by attending night school to make good that lack of GCSEs.  That was hard work. The classroom and academia were all new to me. Yet somehow I have made it happen. Going forward, the support I have been given by family, friends, and the Longford Trust has been incredible. I look back and realise that there are so many talented people locked in prison cells who aren’t even aware they can start out on this journey of improving themselves.

Looking afresh at the world

What I want to say to them in this blog is that this path I have taken has already demonstrated to me many of the benefits of a degree. It has, for a start, completely changed my outlook on society. Education has been a win-win for me, helping me to better understand the world around me, and equipping me to make better decisions.

I chose to study psychology because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. What I have found out is that what we know about the human psyche is quite dated and poorly understood. Yet the human mind is so fascinating, it is surprising that as a species we know so little about it.

More motivation than intellect

My motivation, to be clear, far out weighs my intellect, but one of the benefits of prison life is that it made me a resilient and resourceful human being. That and the fact that I actually want to learn and better myself as I have had enough of repeating old patterns. So, I focus on the day in hand and get the task done.

When I finally get this degree, and can throw my hat in the air like all the other students, I will feel so proud of myself. And I hope in a small way I will be a living example, not only to others who have walked the same path as me into prison, but more importantly to my children who have witnessed my lifelong struggles with addiction and crime.

Now I can hold my own

Coming from a marginalised background it was like I never had a voice. All I ever had were middle-class barristers, solicitors, probation officers and drug and social workers talking at me. But now I feel I can hold my own. My vocabulary has broadened so I can articulate what it is I need to say. Yet, as I regularly tell myself, “I have not come this far just to come this far”.

If you feel inspired by David’s story to find out about going to university, contact Clare Lewis, the Longford Trust’s scholarship manager, or write to her at Freepost, Longford Trust. You don’t need to put a stamp on it.

How a Die Hard movie inspired me to swop prison for university

Author: | 11 Apr 2023

Alex is serving the last final years of a long sentence at an Open prison. With a Longford Scholarship, he is studying on day-release at the University of East London. For Longford Blog he describes how education had never figured in his plans, until he was in prison watching a lousy Die Hard action film on TV.

He knew he could write something better.

When I landed in prison there were two options to get paid. One was you work in the prison – cleaner, servery, painter. The other was you attend education – maths, English, journalism, IT.

Growing up in Hackney, I had seen it all. What we were taught as teenagers was – it wasn’t cool to get a job or even go to school. The cool thing was to go to prison and get fast money.

But in prison, I picked education. It was a no-brainer for me. I tried every course that they had to offer because I have always been a believer that knowledge is power. Plus, most of the courses I would have to pay for in the real world.

A Better You

I noticed, though, that a lot of prisoners wanted to work and despised education. They were scared to do something that they had never done before, or felt had no real value in their lives.

There is a huge number of people in prison who don’t know how to read or write. That lead me to write an article for the prison magazine called ‘A Better You’. It was basically giving tips on how to better yourself in custody and have something to carry out with you into the real world so your sentence didn’t feel like a big waste of time.

My light-bulb moment

I had never known what I wanted to be, and really enjoyed in my life until one day, in prison, I was watching a film, A Good Day to Die Hard. I thought to myself, ‘what the hell? I can come up with a way better script than this’. So, I put pen to paper and got creating.

I called my friends in the acting world and they sent me scripts which helped me learn about the format. They also sent me a book called Save the Cat. It really helped me out a lot because it taught me about writing a film.

Throughout my years in prison, I used to go around to the staff and ask, ‘is it possible you will let me put on a play in prison that would be really educational and helpful to others’? But I got rejected year by year.

Passion for film

Still I had a real passion for film. Something felt different this time. I knew this was my future. So I never gave up. I kept writing and I kept asking to put on a play.

When I got to Standford Hill (a category D prison) I had a big break from writing because there was so much freedom there, I couldn’t concentrate.  The courses they had were mostly manual handling (which I tried, but I knew straight away, this wasn’t for me). Or others I have already done in other prisons.

My creativity was fading, so I told my prison offender manager to send me back to a Category C prison so I could focus on my scripts. Suddenly me and a staff member got speaking. I told him I wrote screenplays and he said, ‘great, can you pull off a play in a month in the prison?’ I told him yes, then realised I had to get actors, props, sound, staging… and write a script.

Getting the green light

I gathered a group of people for a writer’s room and then went around approaching prisoners to act. And we made something that prison and prisoners had never seen before in a prison. We have carried on putting on plays and well-known film makers and industry professionals have been coming to watch and giving the prisoners words of encouragement.

Today we have a company called F.A.T.E (film art theatre entertainment), we have performed numerous plays in the prison, we have been approached to do plays in other prisons, and we have a short film in the pipeline. We are also working on a prison series with a TV director known for a TV drama series called Noughts and Crosses, adapted from a book by Mallory Blackman.

Destined for greatness

One of our main ideas behind the company is giving back. We have planned some events to raise funds for charities that help victims of crime, the sort that help keep youth off the streets and people not to re-offend. As a fundraiser, and to remind people when they are feeling defeated to keep on target, we have developed silicone wristbands emblazoned with ‘destined for greatness’ on them. Sales of these bands will be split amongst the charities we support.

Another idea in the pipeline is working alongside the Koestler Arts Award to host an annual auction event selling prisoners’ work. The money raised would be split two ways between a victim awareness charity, and the artist’s family. It would make the artist feel proud of themselves and maybe inspire them to continue their art upon release.

My main message…

So, don’t give up when you get told NO. Use that NO as motivation to better yourself. And DON’T be scared to fail.

If you feel inspired by Alex’s story to find out about going to university, contact Clare Lewis, the Longford Trust’s scholarship manager, or write to her at Freepost, Longford Trust. You don’t need to put a stamp on it.

How education gave me a second chance

Author: | 24 Mar 2023

Excluded from school for being disruptive Neil had no interest in education when he was sent to prison. But slowly he caught the learning bug and now has a degree to his name.  For Longford Blog he describes how, with our backing, he landed his dream job in prison reform.


The letters A,B,C,D are probably the most important determination of a teenager’s future, the higher the letter, the better their chances of carving out a successful career. Unfortunately for me, instead of getting a GCSE grade, I received a different sort of B – I was sent to a Category B prison.


Even if I’d stayed at school I probably wouldn’t have passed any of my exams. I had no enthusiasm for education, was disruptive and an all-round nuisance for the teachers who passionately gave up their time despite my antics. Looking back, this was even more depressing as I actually had an ability to achieve: I started out in all the top sets but found myself in the lower tiers because of my behaviour.


I was suspended and subsequently permanently expelled. A gaping hole in my personal development and a lack of structure left me destined for failure. And I became the ultimate failure, committed an horrendous crime and – rightly so -received a custodial sentence for longer than I had been alive.


Getting back on track


Spending time in the juvenile prison estate meant that I was faced with my arch nemesis again – education. True to fashion, I wasn’t interested, had zero motivation to learn, and attended just to get out of my cell. Now, 16 years on, I have a degree with first-class honours, am halfway through an MA in Crime and Justice, and I already have a blueprint for a possible PhD.


So how did I get hooked on education? In prison there is a requirement to complete Maths and English to an adequate level. For me this was boring but essential. Once you have completed the foundations, other courses become available. After spending four years passing English and Maths, I was invited to study Sociology at GCSE level. At this point I was more mature and enjoyed my tutor using the Sociology syllabus to help me understand how society works. As well as a qualification, I was learning about myself and how I had found myself in prison.


Getting motivated


I guess when there is an intrinsic motivation you are more committed to learn. As time went on, I was excited by study. I even washed the sleep out of my eyes to ensure I was bright and early for class. As well as attending lessons, I would pull out the books on a night-time and indulge in reading stuff outside the syllabus.


I stuck at it and achieved a respectable grade B. I had caught the education bug. With the same inspirational teacher, I next completed 7 more GCSEs. Then my tutor suggested I start higher education at The Open University.


Distance Learning and Student Loans


I continued with the Social Sciences, took advantage of a student loan to pay for my OU module costs and dedicated my time to learning. After navigating the prison system’s distance learning troubles, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences. I was ready to stop there. I was already anxious about release and didn’t want to incur any more debts through student finance.


Fortunately, I was responsible for helping other prisoners choose higher education opportunities and was made aware by my peers of what The Longford Trust offers. I noticed the energy and positivity among those who were on a Longford Scholarship and I wanted in! I applied and, to my delight, they awarded me three years of funding towards an MA in Crime and Justice.


A scholarship that goes beyond money


Once I had been accepted, the Trust’s director came to meet me in prison, explained that the scholarship is more than paying for tuition fees, and talked to me about finding a suitable mentor. Over and above the financial aspect of the scholarship, one of the key advantages it provides is having one of the Trust’s trained mentors to support you one-to-one.


I have now been in the community for twelve months and The Longford Trust has shared my resettlement journey with me. As well as getting my studies transferred smoothly from prison to community, they have offered me professional advice and a helping hand whenever I need it. So much so that they helped me land my dream job of helping fight for fairer outcomes in the criminal justice system. My rehabilitation journey would look incredibly different without them.


If you feel inspired by Neil’s story and would like to apply for a Longford Scholarship, contact Clare Lewis for details or an application form, or write to her at Freepost, Longford Trust (you don’t need a stamp)