Politics in the Pub came to Katoomba last weekend, with pundits debating the sense in the Baird Government’s decision to all but abandon prisoner rehabilitation through education.

A packed house heard speakers on the topic of “Education Beats Crime” argue that investment in education and training for prisoners is vital to getting them on track to change their lives and become effective members of society.

Presented by the Blue Mountains Unionists Council (BMUC) at the Katoomba Family Hotel, the issue is seen as pertinent to many regional communities and public institutions such as hotels.

BMUC Politics in Pub Stewart Burkitt_adj_LR
Stewart Burkitt

The event attracted officials such as Member for the Blue Mountains Trish Doyle, and was orated by guest speakers Stewart Burkitt, a teacher at Long Bay Jail and President of the Corrective Services Teachers Association, Leanne Tobin, a casual TAFE Outreach teacher in Western Sydney Correctional Centres, and Brett Collins, an ex-prisoner who is now co-ordinator of Justice Action, a spokesperson for the Prisoners Action Group, and director of Breakout Media Communications.

Conspicuous in his absence was Corrective Services Minister David Elliott, who has reportedly failed to respond to the BMUC’s requests to participate.

“This event was triggered by the Baird government’s announcement that 138 of the 158 teachers working in NSW jails

Leanne Tobin
Leanne Tobin

are to be made redundant and replaced by clerical staff, and for educational program content to be outsourced,” said BMUC President Kerry Cooke.

“By outsourcing prison education away from specialist teachers to privatised trainers the government is dumbing down the system at a time when the jail population is running at record levels.”

A number of key considerations emerged from the discussion that education triumphs over crime, with benefits hard to deny for even the most pragmatic observers. These notably included the established actualities that:

  • education is proven as the most effective pathway to changing lives for the better
  • prisoner behaviour improves when detainees are occupied and engaged with learning
  • crime and resources required are reduced when prisoners are released back into the community with the skills to manage life outside jail
Brett Collins
Brett Collins

Minister Doyle reported correspondence also with the Corrective Services Minister with similar lack of reply. This focused on garnering Elliot’s “views and plans for educational outcomes out of prison” – which was at the crux of the debate.

The Politics in the Pub theme seriously questioned the validity of the Government’s privatisation agenda, trumpeting the lack of evidence to show privatisation will result in improvement. This would seem to be justified by both Australia and the USA’s moves away from the privatisation of the correctional system.

“Rather than encouraging rehabilitation, this move is more likely to lead to increased recidivism*,” summarised Cooke.

Stakeholders are aiming to collect the 10,000 signatures necessary to force debate on the topic in State Parliament. So far around 7,000 signatures have been secured.

For more information, or to watch a video of the event, visit the BMUC Facebook page.

To join the petition or help gather signatures, here is the Campaign Petition Form.



*Repeated or habitual relapse, as into crime

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